Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Health- Fast Food Advertising

I think the hamburger is one of the greatest American inventions. Properly prepared they taste great, are a convenient handmeal, and can be customized in a nearly infinite variety of ways. They aren’t even that unhealthy, eaten in moderation. And they are a symbol of America. What I’ve never been able to understand why with a hundred different fast food burger franchises, each having an outlet on virtually every street corner of any commercial district, not one can manage to make A DECENT HAMBURGER. They all taste like the cardboard box they come in. They didn’t used to. When I was a kid you could go down to the local burger place and get a fire grilled burger that somebody called “Pop” would cook in front of you and cover with fresh lettuce, pickles, onions, and a slab of tomato. Hell, if you were a regular he might even toast the bun. When you were served you could add mustard, mayo, or even (ugh) ketchup to your taste from containers that sat on your table and enjoy this uniquely American treat.

Then one little shop decided to sell the formula for making a business out of this iconic American dish to thousands of other people. And before you know it we have a fast food industry with huge corporations forcing “Pop” and his handmade burgers out of business in favor of economies of scale, and standardization. Cattle farms became Cattle factories where cows were injected with more steroids than a professional baseball player. And the only way to set yourself apart from the dozens of other mega-franchise food factories was by million dollar ad campaigns.

So lets start the year with a true sign of the times- Burger King has a new ad campaign in which they refuse to sell Whoppers to their customers.

Now I would generally think of such an innovation as a good thing. Hell, I’d go ‘em one better and just say close all the damn Burger Kings and do your customers a real favor. But this series of ads is pure genius. In fact, seldom has such truth in advertising been evident on national television. Here’s the message- Burger King thinks you are an idiot who is good enough just to be screwed with if you’re dumb enough to eat their “food”. Talk about reality TV.

Last night I saw the newest iteration of the Burger King ads. Now instead of refusing to sell to their customers, they are filling orders for Whoppers with BigMacs. The commercial shows people going into apoplectic rages that they didn’t get the crappy foodlike Soilent Green product of their choice (ostensibly with all the people who turn around and say “Damn, this is the best Whopper I’ve ever eaten” edited out). The last shot in the commercial even shows that hideous Burger King thing that was chasing people around like Leatherface in the last campaign coming out and laughing at the distraught patrons. Joke’s on you if you walk into one of these places. I just wonder how many people didn’t notice their burger was any different.

The only time I can remember such open contempt for customers were those Ford ads that proclaimed “Nine out of ten Fords are still on the road today”. (The tenth one seems to have made it back home.)

Realizing that their customers can’t tell the difference between a fast food burger and the real thing, Hardees (for those of you outside the south it’s called Carl’s Jr - a name rivaled in stupidity only by Ruth’s Chris Stakehouse) has decided to market The $6 Restaurant Burger. This is supposedly a real hamburger like one you might be served in a restaurant. Of course it doesn’t cost $6 and it isn’t anything like a real hamburger in anything except size but Hardees is betting on the fact that you’ve never eaten a burger in a real restaurant. And with other menu items such as the 3 Pound Crapburger, and the Hearstopper Combo with Curley Fries this apparently follows the old salesman’s mantra “The more shit you throw at the wall (of your arteries), the more will stick.”

Carl’s Jr. had the previous record for the most truthful fast food advertising a few years ago with their “Don’t Bother Me, I’m Eating” commercials. Each of these would show some poor pre-diabetic rapturously wolfing down one of their products while a sort of creamy white sludge dripped out of it all over them. It was a masterful visual metaphor, evoking simultaneous thoughts of crack addiction, low flying pigeons, and the money shot in a porn film. The entire fast food experience in a nutshell. And it was accurate. Somebody at corporate had obviously decided that using quality beef and cooking each hamburger individually could be replaced with equally fabulous results by adding a quart of mayonnaise to each burger. What is this- Europe? I also assume this was ordered on penalty of firing since asking for a burger without mayo was ineffectual. Never once was I able to get a dry burger in Colorado, though I did have one employee offer to scrape the mayo off my incorrect order once. And you wonder why people call you a loser if you work in fast food. How you gonna be trusted to do anything important if you can’t manage leaving the mayonnaise off a burger? Keep ‘em where they do the least damage, I say. (Why this rule doesn’t apply to politicians I have no idea.)

What I’m waiting for is the last commercial in the series where the camera sits on a Burger King with an empty parking lot and a sign in front that says “Come back! We were only kidding.”

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