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What's Funny About BK's "Square Butts" Ad? Nothing.

I’ve been trying to think of exactly what makes me feel icky about the new Burger King/SpongeBob commercial (Scroll down to watch the spot). And I guess my answer is: Pretty much everything.

In the clip, BK’s jolly frozen-smile King–a commercial character I happen to really like–sings a little parody rap remix of the already-a-parody Sir Mix-a-Lot gem “Baby Got Back.” As he dances, he’s surrounded by a bevy of hot women, all with big, boxy faux-butts. It’s all done to mark the fact that BK is offering 99-cent kid meals, with SpongeBob SquarePants-related toys as giveaways. At one point, the King is seen with a tape measure, sizing up one woman’s rectangliciousness. And Nickelodeon’s beloved porous, yellow innocent is seen shaking his boo-tay at one point while you hear lines such as, “I like square butts and I cannot lie.”

I could try to come up with 28 things that bug me about it (one for each gram of fat in a six-piece chicken tender kid meal), or even 6.5 reasons (one for each gram of saturated fat), but I’ll stick with these four, one for each corner of the women’s bottoms:

1. Burger King says the ad is aimed at adults and was shown during adult programming (the recent NCAA Men’s Basketball title game) and, therefore, not meant “for kids.” As an admitted adult (I’ll be 49 next month, not that THAT matters) with a pretty good sense of humor (just ask my friends), three kids and a belief that SpongeBob SquarePants is one of, perhaps, the five best, cleverest series on television, I find the association of SpongeBob and a predilection for big butts to be unbelievably counterintuitive. In other words, it doesn’t work. I didn’t watch this ad and think, hey kids, let’s go to Burger King.

2. Since the ad caused immediate controversy (as it was no doubt supposed to), BK decided to “clear up any confusion” about its intentions, telling Marketing Daily that the commercial was “intended to show that even adults can have fun, laugh and be silly with entertainment genres . . . that have become a part of everyday life.” Really? Can I? Hey adults: Have fun and be silly! Burger King says so! Reading this line made me think of the professional wrestling matches of my youth, where a bad guy would bring a “foreign object” into the ring and use it to gouge at the good guy, before hiding it from the clueless ref. It’s like saying, ‘We’re not linking a beloved kid icon with something overtly sexual-we’re being silly!’ Oh, NOW I get it.

3. I come into this, admittedly, with a bias: As much as some meals at a fast food chain can be highly inoffensive, nutrition-wise, many more are extremely offensive, and I believe the fast food culture contributes mightily to the obesity epidemic in this country. Sue me.

4. The clip shows a real lack of understanding of anything remotely funny about, or associated with, SpongeBob. I love things that play against type to mine the humor in them. So long as they’re funny. I know: I like my humor to be funny.

I’m not even getting into the argument that plenty of people DVR’d the game and watched it later, perhaps with their kids, perhaps in an attempt to get those kids excited about the wonders of college basketball. And those kids-remembering Sir Mix-a-Lot’s song used with perfect humor at the end of Shrek–might perk up and check it all out.

My five-year-old son watches SpongeBob and when the commercials come on, no matter the product, he instantly says, “I want that.” He does it, I’m convinced, in part because he’s an unseasoned consumer (we’re working on that) and in part because he knows it always cracks us up. No doubt BK wanted me to see this commercial, look at those boxy butts and make the long link, through the icky association with SpongeBob, to say, “I want that kid meal for my kids.” It didn’t work.


Robert Edelstein
Robert Edelstein

Rob has written for Broadcasting+Cable since 2006, starting with his work on the magazine’s award-winning 75th-anniversary issue. He was born a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium … so of course he’s published three books on NASCAR, most notably, Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner. He’s currently the special projects editor at TV Guide Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and his origami art has been in The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his family in New Jersey and is writing a novel about the Wild West.