I love chocolate, and I love vanilla ice cream, but guess what? I am not going out of my way for a Klondike bar anytime soon. I used to love Burger King’s French fries, but lately, I’d rather have fries at McDonald’s. And Carl’s Jr.? The last time I bought anything there was in 1998. Why? Well, Klondike, your insanely misogynistic “man cave” online campaign lost me completely. And while I chuckled at your Whopper and Whopper Jr. campaigns, Burger King, your King commercials—with a jerky pantomime patriarch—are a real turnoff. And what the hell was up with that XXX SpongeBob ad?
As for Carl’s Jr., you lost me long before you hired Paris Hilton to gyrate on a car. Your late ’90s campaigns showing people shoving your food into their mouths while smacking, slurping and snorting made me want to vomit.
What all these companies have in common is the message that they’re sending to not just me, but to 51 percent of the population: We are not only uninterested in your business, ladies, we’re also willing to make you the butt of the joke in the process! All to appease the dudebros we’re courting so desperately.
I’ve written before about how much it annoys me that I can’t order beef stroganoff at a Polish restaurant without having my gender questioned. But what I haven’t really addressed is how so much of this gendered eating stuff seems to be manufactured by the advertising industry. Now, full disclosure—I am married to a member of that industry, and as such, I’ve gotten an inside look into what goes into an ad campaign. And a lot of it, it seems, is based on market research, with focus groups and customer profiling. I can’t blame companies for wanting to market their products to the people who might actually buy them. But lately, it just seems there is more and more of a gender divide; and—at least when it comes to food—there’s been a significant increase in the number of products or restaurants that were gender-neutral in the past that are now clearly geared for the manfolk only. And it almost seems like they go out of their way to make the gender not targeted feel as alienated as possible.
Klondike seems to be the latest to jump on the bandwagon, but I am not inclined to let other companies slide. For instance, when did Yoplait and Dannon get together and decide that yogurt is only for women? And that only women have digestive problems that can be healed with probiotics? I have news for you: my fridge is full of yogurt, and I never eat it. But it still gets eaten—and not by a woman. The female-biased trend continues with Special K cereal—which apparently can only make inches disappear on a woman’s body—and just about any snack food that’s remotely considered healthy. And I’ve already written about the mica-containing abomination known as the Fling chocolate bar, and its ridiculously pink campaign. Still, these woman-centered campaigns are not nearly as annoying as the ones aimed at men, because they’re not as mean-spirited or sexist (though a case could be made that they’re sexist to women—why must we always take dietary “challenges”?).
That said, I question the wisdom of a gendered approach in general, particularly in this economy. Don’t Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Klondike, Yoplait, and others need as much business as possible? I accept that there are certain things a man would never buy, and vice versa. But to extend it to food—which both genders need and enjoy—seems crazy to me.
– A.K. Whitney