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Two young teenage boys are dropped off at the mall and their parents run some errands. Armed with ten bucks each and some time to kill, the boys begin to roam the halls looking for anything they can spend their money on. While walking near the food court they catch a whiff of many different traditional foods, but what they see really catches their eye. On a banner near Burger King stands an advertisement of a wide-eyed young girl with her mouth open facing a BK (Burger King) “Seven Incher” hamburger. The text around the photo reads, “It’ll blow your mind away” in all caps. Hormones racing, the two boys know what the bulk of their money will be spent on.
Companies who create advertisements for products that are essentially “a dime a dozen” will seek to publish something that sticks out. Was this method the best possible way to do so? Or might it create more problems than good for Burger King? I’m going to make the argument that BK uses sex in advertisements to target their younger male audience, rather than specifically using their products. I will do this by evaluating Burger King’s target audience, their history of advertisements, and the slogans and pictures incorporated in their messages.
Target audience is defined as “a specific group within a larger audience”. Target audiences are used in marketing by companies who want to reach a specific demographic of people and also share specific demographic traits. Slogans are “a brief attention-getting phrase used in advertising or promotion” (Merriam Webster, 2015, 2). Companies use these to make an advertisement connect with their target audience.
Burger King’s target audience when these advertisements were run was a younger male-focused group (Morrison, 2012, 1). More recently Burger King has branched out and developed newer, healthier options for their menu. However, the stereotypical “manly meat” menu that they previously sported appealed directly to their target audience. The “seven-inch burger” advertisement ran with the skinny model covered in makeup, mouth open and eyes wide, facing the burger while the written message read, “It’ll blow your mind away”. Another advertisement BK ran was the legs of a woman from the knee down, while she only wears red high heels and a Burger King crown around her ankles. Clearly, this gives the illusion that she would be wearing little but the “crown” and once again points directly to the sexual nature and overall target audience of the brand. Combine the audience with the suggestive sexual messages, and Burger King all of a sudden not selling value meals and sides but rather sexual innuendos directly aimed at their male-dominant young audience.
Burger King has a history of running advertisements that have been edgy and sexually suggestive over the last 20 years. Since Burger King has a product and product line that is duplicated by many (that being the fast food and hamburger industry), they are essentially not advertising just their product and prices but instead a snapshot of what they offer combined with sex. In the advertisement with the woman wearing the BK crown around her ankles, her shoes are a dark shade of red. Red is the “most emotionally intense color, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing” (Johnson, 2015, 5). The color red also “exudes a strong and powerful masculine energy” while “stimulating deeper and more intimate passions in us, such as love and sex” (Scott-Kemmis, 2015, 6). It simply was not just by chance that BK chose to place red shoes on a model with a suggestive notation attached to it, but instead a carefully constructed message aimed to maximize their profits for their audience.
The written slogans in each individual message, while it has something to do with the products they offer, arguably has just as much to do with sexual suggestions. “It’ll blow your mind away” is a message constructed about sex, with the product in mind. “Irresistibly long & beefy” is another slogan by Burger King that possesses that same double standard of fitting the product and sex. Because this message is written in all capital letters, the advertisement gives the vibe that the message is masculine and not afraid to hide the double meaning. In the advertisement that solely has the woman’s legs with the BK crown around her ankles, there are no words that appear on the publication except for a small picture of a new product they are introducing. Because there are not any words tying the picture to any specific product, it seems to be an obvious example of thinking sex first, then their overall brand. Knowing that their audience is young and male dominated, this advertisement tactic may be the best possible solution, even though morally it may seem unethical or wrong.
While it may be true that sex does sell, perhaps the reason why they had to incorporate other products and target a new audience was because the food industry was not the best place to sport that idea. There is clearly no doubt that these advertisements were published with the idea of sex first and their products and brand second. Looking at the original target audience, history of print advertisements, and the written slogans on each, there is no question that their focus was tapping into the industry of their young male audience. It is safe to say Burger King thought the best way to do so was through the means of mesmerizing customers with women and sexually indicative messages.
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