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Thursday, June 25 | The Bleat.

While daughter did karate I had supper at the authentic, i.e. filthy, burrito shop in the strip mall. The guy behind the counter had the exact expression you’d expect of a man who worked in a place where everyone had the beans. I sat next to four of the loudest, dumbest people I’ve met this week – it takes a special kind of illteracy to be unable to read HOT and MILD, and hence be chagrined by your choice of salsa. One of the guys went outside for a smoke in the middle of his meal, which was either a testament to the size of the burrito or the rich, full-flavored experience you get from a drug-store cigar with a wooden tip. The deafening conversation consisted mostly of the word “ass” applied to various adjectives, and the occasional appearance of the word “manslaughter.” One of the women gave off a six-foot-circumference odor of generic moisturizer, too. People! It takes all kinds to make a world. I just wish sometimes they’d go off and make one of their own. 


It’s always interesting how two guys being loud and vulgar make everyone else get very quiet. It’s an old story; in the ancient times, it would take a John Wayne to stroll over and tell them to keep the talk clean, there are ladies and children  present. But that probably never happened, either. Only in the movies. And only in the old movies; the new movies made sure we sided with the free-expression types, not the dried-up old men afraid of some straight talk. They’re just words, man. Yes, but you appear to have only six of them at your disposal. 


Speaking of which:



There’s been some discussion of this ad and its crude implications, and how Western Civ is gurgling down the drain, et cetera. It’s not the only recent ad to use sex to sell hamburgers. As I may have said before, I have no problem using sex to sell something; it’s how it’s done. This is crude, but it’s not really crude; it’s a sophisticated attempt to be crude, which is another thing entirely. Great care went into this. The photography, the makeup, the retouching, font choice, design, copy – people with no small amount of talent labored to produce something that basically apes old Roman graffito. Like all of Burger King’s recent ads, it aims to be “edgy” and hence “different” and lodge the brand in the forebrain of the dullards who roam the edge of town looking for logos on poles that indicate FOOD. The creepy Burger King. The horrible Spongebob rap ad. So much time and creative energy!

Result: “World’s cleverest ad campaign is a big failure.”  As it turns out, people don’t necessarily want to think of a nightmare monarch with a plastic face when they’re in the mood for supper. Or, if they think of it, they turn away. 

But Burger King is a brand mess anyway. The logo looks like Speed Racer’s gallstone. The old logo got stale, but I’ll bet they want it back, because it would look totally old-school on one of those pre-distressed-for-your-convenience retro T-shirts that use lousy 70s graphics to indicate your hipness quotient. Compare all this flailing and “repositioning” to the competition: McDonald’s ads have always been bland and corporate and stuck in the soft-focus world of happy people having happy burgers; BK has had to take different tacks. Here’s a big-budget feel-good campaign from the days when a company wanted to influence more than the “under 27 with no girlfriend but mad Xbox skillz” demographic:



Here’s the original King, in lame cartoon form that would be lampooned endlessly with flat rote irony by subsequent generations of animators eager to prove they are cooler than stupid dispensable ads from the past:



This fellow’s palsy was later found to result from formaldehyde in the carrageenan additives. Look at the FEAR on his sad face. Reduced to this!


Every attempt BK made to come up with a character failed; every attempt. There’s a reason McDonald’s doesn’t run ads with John Wayne Gacy as Ronald, no matter how much people don’t like Ronald. You feel sorry for the shaking guy and you wonder why a King is capable of magic. And why he looks like someone from a Scottish Monarch Pride Parade. 


Then there’s this. I’m pretty sure everyone involved knew, and enjoyed, the ridiculousness of it all, but compared to the BK ad that started all this, it’s the difference between a Vargas and something Larry Flynt would reject. Carl’s Jr is noted for their overtly sexual burger ads, to use four words you don’t always see together, but this one goes for International Classiness:




Why is that different than the BK ad? The former is sexual – sniggering 9th-grade stuff – and the latter is sensual, if over the top. I’m waiting for the perfect combination of Comstockery to raise an alarm – it implies cultural superiority, it objectifies women, and it  promotes unhealthy habits. The last one is the only one that really has sufficient traction, since what you eat, drink and otherwise ingest is now a matter of public interest. I read a story today about the Hav-A-Tampa cigar factory closing down in Florida, due to taxes leading to decreased consumption. (Increased taxes on my own favorite cigars led me to look around for something to cancel; I chose a magazine, and of course I’ll order less from the small mom-and-pop online store from which I get them. This will average out my costs, but produce a net drop in tax revenue. Sorry!) Another site noted something about the increased cigarette regulation I hadn’t heard before: in-store displays will be forbidden to use color and pictures. They can only have black-and-white text. 


We can argue about the effectiveness of advertising, the messages it sends, the propriety of advertising cigarettes in general, but I don’t believe it’s an extreme position to say I long for a day when the state did not regulate the hues that can be legally used to promote a particular product. 


I’d like to know if black-and-white means greyscale is out, because I’d love to learn that someone was fined for using a logo that had a drop shadow.

By the way: Saw this on the way to Karate. 


No doubt with finest Turkish-blend Virginia tobacco. 

Lance Lawson has been delayed until Friday; First Day Covers up around three or so. See you then!



94 Responses to Thursday, June 25

  1. Doug says:

    What Sir? No link to your cigar brand or the fine folks you order them from?

    tut and tut.

  2. Jennifridge says:

    BK has better burgers and better ads, James’ current print example above notwithstanding. Maybe I’m the only one, but I liked the BK ads with Whopper Dad and Whopper Jr. (You know, the ones with the man and the teenaged kid wearing plastic burger suits.) I also enjoyed the ads where BKs around the country were out of Whoppers for a day. Or how about the “Whopper virgins” one, with Inuits and babushka ladies from Moldova eating their first burger, and preferring BK’s? I thought those eminently enjoyable as well, but apparently those were cause for offense by people who felt it was insensitive to people in poverty-stricken parts of the world. *sigh*

  3. Paul says:

    I recall a scene from Thirtysomething (a high point of western civ, I’ll have you know) where Michael and Miles, the wicked genius ad dude, were looking at some weird, edgy ad for copier machines.

    He asked Miles, “How the hell will this thing sell copiers?”

    Miles responded, “It won’t. We’ll just put a few print ads in the trades to get sales. This thing is designed to win advertising awards… you know why?”

    “To get more clients.”

    Miles nodded. “I’m glad you understand.”

    So BK, where are the print ads in the trades to increase sales? Oh – you sort of forgot that part of the equation. But you probably did manage to get Mr. Edgy Ad Guy more clients. Way to go, BK.

  4. hpoulter says:

    Taco places – there was one in Falls Church, Virginia in the 70s that I went to regularly from work – it was called “Taco Bueno”, so we called it “Taco Malo”. Pretty bad, but I could eat and drink anything back then.

    Anyway, it has a special place in my heart, because of the decor – a big black velvet painting of Snoopy as a bullfighter. That’s kitsch gold.

  5. hirudo says:

    Just curious Jim, What brand of cigars do you buy?

  6. DroptmaStyx says:

    Did somebody mention Herb? This was the other BK campaign that bombed .

  7. DroptmaStyx says:

    Sorry – video won’t embed.


  8. EmGee says:

    Doug C. Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 7:40 am

    “Personally I think all such ads are an affront to the male intelligence, but they seem to work (probably because the majority of males have no intelligence).”

    Indeed, I find it amusing that most men apparently can’t think with their brains long enough to realize their intelligence is being insulted by ads like these. Why anyone would think the Carl’s ad is somehow ‘classier’ than the BK ad is beyond me. Ask yourself if you’d be proud introduce her to your daughter, as she licks ketchup off her elbow. She’s like a Bratz doll all grown up. Classy, yeah.

  9. swschrad says:

    Herb for BK. that’s what’s been wrong with their advertising, if you know what I mean.

  10. LindaL says:

    Cigarettes were regulated by a different agency (ATF) until last week. They do not make health claims and are clearly labeled with the surgeon general’s warning about causing ill-health. Same as wine and other alcohol. No claims, just warnings.

    Items regulated by the FDA document health claims via indications, contraindications, and warnings. Supplement health claims are not analyzed by the FDA, because the manufacturers do not claim them as indications for promotion of health or treatment of disease.

    I do agree that it isn’t a free speech issue.

  11. DryOwlTacos says:

    BK: I don’t want the word “butts,” square or otherwise, used in a commercial for a food product. Bleah.

    That Carl’s Jr. ad really put the B back in subtle. But I would totally eat that burger. The implication is that you can pound down that gutbomb and still look like Padma Lakshmi. (We are about to get a Carl’s Jr. in our town. The dearhusband CAN’T WAIT to eat at the house that Paris Hilton’s Car Wash built.)

  12. ERL says:

    About 15-20 years ago, BK came up with a cast of child characters that came straight out of a focus group: The Girl Jockette, the Skater Dude, the Brain (named “High Q” of course), the Smart Girl, the Photographer, and “Kid Vid,” who was apparently the leader because he liked video games and stuff. I think Kid Vid (or maybe “Snaps” the photographer) was in a wheel chair, whic is at least a recognition of the disabled.

    I remember seeing the characters in the restaurants off and on through 1990s, but the company never promoted them as far as I can tell.

  13. ChuckC says:

    “Hey all you pedophiles, come to Burger King, have our new sandwich and get the same feeling you get when you dream of having an overly made up 14 year old girl perform oral sex on you!!!”

    That wasn’t my response to this ad. My responses were:
    1) what heterosexual guy is going to buy something called a “Seven-incher”?
    2) what heterosexual guy is going to eat something called a “Seven-incher”?
    3) what exactly do they make those sandwiches out of, anyway?

  14. suciareef says:

    Concerning the 1977 ad – Lileks, was that you appearing 46 seconds into it?

  15. Lileks says:

    Panters – the small ones in the small yellow tin. Delish.

  16. cgm says:

    That Padma babe–wow.

    Wait, there’s a hamburger in the ad?

  17. jeischen says:

    D Palmer, I was thinking the same thing – blow-up doll. And Padma Lakshmi? Married three years to author Salman Rushdie (although they are divorcing). Yes, I said Salman Rushdie. That’s a celebrity sex video I never hope to see.

  18. Dr. Spyn says:

    Someone had their head up their exhaust port when they dreamed up that Burger King ad. What nominally heterosexual male would be attracted to the idea of “eating” a phallus analog? What female would want to risk being seen as a strumpet by ordering such a sandwich?

    Yes, the Carl’s ad was in better taste and more on-message, but it takes more than decolletage for me to pay $6 for a hamburger when Rally’s has a couple of mushroom Swiss burgers for $4.

  19. Tony Dickson says:

    The “Six Dollar Burger” only costs around $4. It got its name because it’s supposed to be as good as a $6 burger at a regular restaurant.

  20. JohnMM says:

    ERL- that campaign was from about 10 years ago, my kids were the age group being marketed to. The spokeskid in the wheelchair was named Wheels, and he was a two-for, black and disabled. The whole gang were members of the BK Kids Club, your kid can join too, just sign up and be part of the cool group.

    I didn’t google any of the above, I’m ashamed my brain holds this stuff.

  21. JohnMM says:

    I guess my brain doesn’t store as much crap as I thought. From Wikipedia:

    The Burger King Kids Club Gang

    In 1989, Burger King re-launched its kids’ meal program as the Burger King Kids Club meal across the United States and in New Zealand. The Burger King Kids Club Gang, a group of multi-ethnic fictional characters, were created to promote the Burger King Kids Club meal by providing a group of stylized characters that most kids could associate with, e.g. the brain, the artist, etc.

    The members of the gang were:

    * Kid Vid, a Caucasian male who loves video games and technology (leader of the group);
    * Boomer, a sports loving Caucasian tomboy with red hair;
    * I.Q., male nerd who wore red glasses, a green lab coat, and a pocket protector;
    * Jaws, A tall African-American male with an insatiable appetite;
    * J.D., a dog and the group’s mascot;
    * Lingo, a multi-lingual, Hispanic male who likes art and carried an easel;
    * Snaps, a blonde Caucasian female who always carries her camera;
    * Wheels, a paraplegic male in a wheelchair.


    In the early 2000s a new female character was added to the group:

    * Jazz, an Asian girl who loves music and sports a beret.

  22. Patrick says:

    ERL – I think the kid characters may have been created to promote Burger King’s new “BK Kids Club” (or words to that effect) meals, which was basically a mockery of McDonald’s Happy Meal, but was supposed to be aimed at an older set, and that there was something for everyone, and that everyone could choose what they wanted, down to the toy.

  23. Patrick says:

    Dang…looks like JohnMM beat me to the punch. Didn’t have to look it up, but a hunch told me it was to promote the new BK Kids Club. Part of a whole fad of joining clubs and groups back in the 80s and 90s. I remember wanting to join the USA Kids Club, and there were a few other “clubs” tied in to various restaurants, cable networks, or even single food products (why is my brain telling me there was a Cheerios Club?)

  24. kahall says:

    Bamm, Lileks hits em right in the kisser. Great post.

  25. D'Angelis says:

    Commenters on Flickr recognized the ad as a product of Photoshop.

  26. Bridey says:

    Well, yes, I would say Photoshop was very likely involved in the production of that ad.

    The point is, is it a genuine ad produced for mainstream media, a real but intentionally “underground” ad, some agency amusing itself with a spec “viral” ad, or simply a hoax?

    I have no idea, myself.

  27. Robert says:

    My husband and I have successfully indoctrinated our two sons into the idea that most fast food is simply too unwholesome to eat. The only kind we ever get is In-n-Out Burger (we’re in California), which has the advantage, as I like to say, of being made out of food. Their french fries, alas, are almost inedible. The impression is that they don’t double-fry them. However, a double-double animal style and a milkshake is a full meal in itself, so not a problem.

    And In-n-Out doesn’t even advertise on TV that I’ve seen. The one here in Oakland is EXTREMELY popular.

  28. [...] JAMES LILEKS LOOKS AT Burger King commercials through the ages. [...]

  29. harmon says:

    A few years back, my wife & I took the kids to a White Sox game. Behind us, several guys were f-wording away. I John Wayned them, & they apologized. Turned out they were off-duty cops…

  30. JD says:

    That sauce is what is grossing me out about the ad. Gah.

  31. JorgXMcKie says:

    The major problem with franchise fast food restaurants is that they’re designed to be run by morons and still make a profit. Therefore, they’re incredibly uneven, even the corporate owned ones.

    I worked (night mgr) at a college BK about two decades ago, and trust me the food that came in the door was top quality. However, the moving grill had to be adjusted just right (which most mgrs couldn’t do) and the prep staff had to care about making good food. Many didn’t.

    My numbers (sales, profits, labor, waste) were easily 3X as good as any other manager because it was easy to do it right if you cared, and we got the reputation of being the place to go late nights for good, cheap food.

    Stores can get looking run-down for sure, but keeping them clean and neat inside is a matter of caring, once again. Our restrooms were clean because I took my turning cleaning them and insisted everyone else cleaned them as thoroughly as I did.

    Anyway, creepy ads aside, BK or Carl’s Jr or whoever is as good as the management, mostly. And remember when it comes to managers and staff, “first raters hire first raters, second raters hire third raters, and third raters hire fifth raters.” (Don’t ask me about fourth raters, I don’t know.)

  32. Shaky Barnes says:

    There is a McDonald’s close to my place. About 2 years ago I went thru the drive thru, ordered a quarter pounder, drove home, hungrily opened the burger-box, and saw a perfect semicircular bite bitten write out of that sucker.

    Needless to say I stormed back, got a refund, and have never been back to that McDs. Actually I haven’t been to any McD’s in a long time except to get coffee when traveling; probably the last one I went to was one in Berlin last year.

  33. Steven E says:

    “Did you cry foul at the advertising prohibitions placed on those?”

    Um, yes.

    See, the amendment that starts “Congress shall make no law” doesn’t have a “regulated product” exemption anywhere in it.

    (That’s even before we fight the old battle that the Constitution doesn’t allow Congress to regulate products in the first place. The general police power of the states and the power to regulate commerce between the states were deliberately made mutually exclusive. Any reading of the latter that allows Congress to regulate a transaction must prohibit states from doing so under the former.)

  34. jamcool says:

    Jack in the Box has the best commercials and one of the only fast food restaurants I’ll go to.

    The new “Jack” logo has a cool retro googie look.

    Some of us remember the original Jack of the 60s/70s-with the creepy goat eyes-and “Jack Cola”…don’t think they’ll bring that back!

    Then there was the cartoon “Jack” of the 70s and the disturbing sight of the Purina checkerboard on the food wrappers.-Ralston Purina owned JITB during the 70s

  35. Dave (in MA) says:

    Grab a bucket and mop
    Scrub the bottom and top
    There is nothing so clean
    As my burger machine!

  36. epobirs says:

    Aw, I like the Burger King ads. I don’t make my fast food choices based on ads but rather on proximity + what coupons make for a good deal. For instance, Carls was recently issuing B1G1Free coupons for their $6 Guacamole and Bourbon burgers. I was working a job that had me installing new computers in bank branches until the early AM, so a 24 hour drive-in was essential to getting fed on the way home. I’d eat one burger en route and the other for breakfast. A great bargain.

    Ads don’t get me to buy products but they can get me to avoid a product if the ad annoys me. I’ll never buy a Tom Tom navigation device because I hated their original ad campaign so much. I felt vindicated when a friend asked me to help him with his and found it had a wretchedly bad interface design.

    So I enjoyed the BK ads because they messed with heads. Just like I enjoy their in-store signage goofery. But I only actually go there when it is the best deal to be had via coupons. Or if I have a great yen for a proper fast food shake. All the other chains have gone to making ice cream parlor shakes instead of the tradition type I associate with a fast food joint. BK still has the proper go with a meal shakes.

  37. Dathu says:

    Looks like the meat in that burger has been darkened; a la Time’s photo of OJ.

  38. Mike Devx says:

    >> However, “the nightmare monarch with the plastic face” creeped me out from day one.

    I used to eat at Burger King a lot, before the plastic faced monarch ads. They disturb me to the point where I have a negative reaction driving past Burger King now.

    I joke about it: If I pull into the drive thru and order my Whopper and large fry, when I pull out, will that plastic-faced freak suddenly be sitting in my back seat, looming in the rear-view mirror, smiling at me with that horrifying serial killer smile? Having taken possession of my car, will he then take possession of my house, my life? Turn on the bathroom light – there he is! Sitting on the toilet, nude, smiling up at me! Open the closet door to grab a dress shirt, but before I can reach the string to pull on the closet light, that cold hand grasps my wrist and my death by hacking ensues.

    That is a joke, of course; but the basic nature of my paragraph joke is that the plastic-faced freak IS disturbing, and I don’t like it, and I’ve got no use for Burger King anymore.

  39. Roberto says:

    Burger King loses market share not because their ads are ineffective, but because they are offering an inferior product. They simply have too many poorly managed stores. I’m a burger maniac. I’m not tied to any particular store – I like Whoppers, Big Macs, Jumbo Jacks (bring back the Bonus Jack!), et al. I frequent Whataburger, Sonic, Dairy Queen, etc. I’m from Texas, but I still like White Castle, Carl’s Jr, Hardees, Crystal Burger, In-and-Out – you name it, I like it. But Burger King continuously disappoints when I give them *another* chance. They should spend less on adverts and more on training…

    But their ads are kinda lame.

  40. formersmoker says:

    Classic tobacco cigarettes are so pass?, hooray for the revolutionary electronic cigarette and e-cigar! ^^

  41. AnnaN says:

    “See, the amendment that starts “Congress shall make no law” doesn’t have a “regulated product” exemption anywhere in it.”

    LOL – the First Amendment right is not an absolute right. Advertisers are not allowed to lie about their products in ads. Are you going to say that is also a restriction of freedom of speech?

    If so, fine, the government just wants to own your soul. The only thing left to do is bunker down with the bottled water and canned food and wait for the Rapture.

  42. harmon says:

    AnnaN – of course advertisers are allowed to lie in their ads. Or do you believe in the existence of a “Burger King”…?

  43. gk1 says:

    Speaking of creepy, does anyone remember the Duracell Family? Think plastic people x 4. I still laugh at Norm McDonald on the fake news of SNL Thanking the Duracell family for “Creeping out the entire country whenever we think of batteries”

    As far at the “King” in Burger King turning off americans, in Australia the restaurants have been renamed to “Hungry Jacks” with the same design motif only different spelling.

  44. Fred says:

    I always had a soft spot for the “200 million people, no two are quite the same…” jingle and kinda sorta hoped that it would be revamped when they announced that the population of the US had topped 300 million. Ah well I guess I can hold on til it hits 400 million and see if they’ll redo it then…

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