Thanks, Carl's Jr., for Making It Easy to Talk About Super Bowl Sexism

The super sexy burger ad's representation of women looks positively prehistoric. Here are some tips for talking to your kids about media messages. By Caroline Knorr
Thanks, Carl's Jr., for Making It Easy to Talk About Super Bowl Sexism

The first commercial fail of the Super Bowl is in, and the winner is Carl's Jr. The burger chain's attention-grabbing, super sexy "Au Naturel" ad is tasteless, sure, but it's also out of step with what Super Bowl viewers really want. Good news for families: Extreme examples like this make it a lot easier to illustrate the importance of quality media and challenge the messages that reinforce tired, outdated stereotypes.

NBC says 2015 is the biggest Super Bowl yet -- and, as always, ads are clearly a big part of the game day fun. Whether audiences have grown more sophisticated, advertisers are realizing that insulting half their viewers isn't a good marketing strategy, or the network is finally recognizing that the Super Bowl is a family event, this year's ads are more family-friendly than ever before. And that just makes Carl's Jr.'s commercial stand out -- in a bad way.

Let's back up. If you haven't caught the Internet chatter, the spot features scantily clad model Charlotte McKinney playing peekaboo with the camera and sexily eating a cheeseburger. But, perhaps inspired by the top ad of Super Bowl 2014 -- Microsoft's "Empowering" commercial -- or studies showing viewers prefer ads without sex, the balance of this year's lineup looks heartening. Toyota's "How Great I Am" commercial features Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy. Dove is busting male stereotypes with an ad celebrating the "soft" side of dads. And there will be completely middle-of-the-road insurance and tech ads.

No, the Super Bowl isn't completely off the hook for sexism and other age-inappropriate fare. Victoria's Secret, Kim Kardashian's T-Mobile spot, Budweiser's promotion of alcohol, and Katy Perry's anticipated anything-goes half-time show will take care of that. And many advertisers are releasing racy teasers online, only to follow up with tamer ads for the TV broadcast. You can also factor in some sexual-enhancement commercials. Guaranteed there will be lots to talk about -- either on game day or whenever the spirit moves you to talk to your kids about media messages and encourage them to view media critically. Here are some ideas for starting those conversations.

Mute the commercials -- and explain why. A lot of times we let inappropriate commercials intrude on our family time. Grab the remote and tell your kids why you want to mute some of the messages that come into your home.

Talk about the ads. Ask your kids why they think marketers go all out on Super Bowl Sunday. Ask which ads they like, and why. Share the ones you like, and explain why. Which ones are memorable?

Ask what ads are really selling. Super Bowl ads can be very creative -- and cagey -- with messaging. Ask your kids if they can identify what is actually being sold in a spot.

Discuss the fact that sex doesn't actually sell. It turns out that Super Bowl audiences don't like sexually charged ads and rate them lower than sex-free ads. Ask your kids why companies persist in using sex to sell products and whether their ads appeal.

Talk about advertisers' online marketing strategies. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz have a series of online-only videos to tease its main Super Bowl Sunday commercial. Ask your kids about the different audiences the ads are designed for.

Point out product placement in the broadcast. Official sponsors will have their logos emblazoned on every available surface. Train your kids to identify advertising that displays in the stadium, on the half-time stage, and even on the host's beverage cup.

Talk back to Super Bowl sponsors. Use the hashtag #notbuying it (developed by the Representation Project) to call out offensive advertising.  

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About Caroline Knorr

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As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (16)

Kid, 12 years old

Personally, I don't see how it's sexist. Yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of the 'sex sells' thing, but I don't mind it. This is not what sexism is. Sexism is when someone, a man or a woman, is discriminated. Heck, I think that if Carl's Jr. used a attractive male for the ad, this controversy wouldn't have happened at all. Also, a hashtag campaign probably isn't going to be that effective to stop anything.
Adult written by Monera

Honestly, it's better long term to let them hear those messages when you're right there next to them and talk about them openly. Muting them will only create the forbidden fruit, and if they don't have practice analyzing messages for themselves early on, then what happens when you do allow them to hear it? There is no magic age for anything really. It's up to you as the adult to teach how to think critically and explore various issues. Plus, most of the commercials go over the kids heads. They may pick up on stuff gradually as they get older, but I think most of the problem lies in adult's increased capacity to overthink, so to speak. Besides, the SuperBowl is for EVERYONE of all ages. "All Ages" to me in that sense doesn't mean we only must cater to preschoolers! "All Ages" means something for children and adults of different age groups and backgrounds. Families watch the SuperBowl, but so do people without kids. Ads for things like alcohol, lingerie, Viagra, etc that aren't meant for kids, ARE meant for EVERYONE else they apply to! Just because kids watch the game, doesn't mean it's fair to banish all commercials aimed at a different age group than children! The Superbowl is for a diverse crowd and thus, has diverse ads. It is NOT a kid's show and was never intended to be!
Parent written by CaliforniaLove

Agreed completely. Especially about muting. I think it's important to never let your children get the notion that you're hiding a part of the world from them. I think terrible for their self esteem, most likely gives them trust issues, and probably doesn't give them a very healthy worldview either.
Adult written by Media choices matter

Hi there! I enjoyed this article and agree with your suggestions of what can be done, but one action Item that has tremendous impact is to contact the company that created the advertisement! Letting our voices be heard as we desire family friendly advertising can make a large impact! I would love to see suggestions of how to contact Carl's Jr. here! :) Thanks!
Adult written by Spartyon

I don't mind the ad and it isn't sexist just trying to sensationalize Common Sense. I didn't see the ad during the Super Bowl which has ad's for everyone and I also believe that sex sells just a fact of life I enjoyed the ad's last night from Coke, Victoria Secret, Bud's Best Friends etc. Katy Perry did a great job at halftime with a very entertaining show & performance.
Kid, 10 years old

That's not nature! Why should women have to deal with all this? We are useful for more than just our lovers. I am a ten year old girl and I plan on being single, thank you very much. I hate it when people try to sell stuff with sexiness.
Adult written by Senser123

I feel that Carl's.Jr should and oughta be ashamed of themselves for making the sexy ads that are actually targeted more towards the older hungry males than the younger ones beginning in 2004 with Paris Hilton but it proves that kids are getting more iffy media messages than ever these days.
Adult written by foxm

"Scantily clad model Charlotte McKinney playing peekaboo with the camera and sexily eating a cheeseburger" is "sexist" to you? Sexism means discriminating against people on the basis of their gender. How does what you just described match that definition?
Kid, 10 years old

It's sexist because skinny female models selling cheeseburgers are offensive to women. I am a girl so I would know. Females are useful for more than that!
Adult written by Spartyon

I agree I didn't think it's sexist I think Common Sense Media doesn't know what the definition is. I don't mind the ad myself I'm not outrage about it then again sex sells no matter how much Common Sense try's to say it doesn't.
Parent of a 10 and 12 year old written by megmcadam

I shared this article on FB. Unfortunately, when I included the link, it displayed a nice big image of the naked Carl's Jr. actor on the FB post. To my friends who aren't familiar with Common Sense, it just appeared like another article feeding into the hype of the over sexualized ads and I got comments to that effect. Choosing that image could be interpreted as your organization utilizing sex to get the reader's attention, which makes you as guilty as the sponsors we are criticizing for doing the same.
Adult written by Angelisti5que01

Hi, I was just flicking through a couple of emails and just happened to notice this how interesting. It was good to know. it's quite common questions and to actually ask up makes you feel lke your really there or maybe can feel actually invovled without thinking all that sharpness of those 101 q's and a's. That was great.... Angelisti5que01
Parent of a 3, 7, and 10 year old written by GregNeumayer

Wow. It's almost like they knew what McD's was doing for theirs and decided not to try to compete. (If this form doesn't allow links, go to YouTube and search for McDonalds's superbowl ad): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq2Sm2XGv_s As far as food goes, Carl's is substantially better with their burger prices and quality, but clearly they're calling to a different audience here.

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