Or so we are informed, anyway, by the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, the Bible-thumping scold who has built an industry out of outrage at the excesses of the culture. His latest crusade is directed at Burger King over a commercial "that mixes a children's cartoon character with adult nudity. That's right. Burger King is senselessly using adult nudity to appeal to children!"
An attention getter
Granted, as anxious appeals to moral common sense go, that's an attention getter. Adult nudity? Kid's Meal porn? Considering BK is handled by Crispin Porter & Bogusky -- the agency that used a repulsive dog-feces stunt to promote Haggar slacks -- you'd be forgiven for being curious about what scandal the agency has perpetrated now. We certainly were, so we dug up the spot. What we found is a vignette in which two little kids barge into the bathroom, where Dad is taking a bubble bath and Mom is folding laundry.
Girl: "Hey, Mom! SpongeBob's at Burger King! Can we go?"
Mom: "As soon as your dad's done."
Girl: "Yessss!" (The kids run off.)
Dad: "Hey, honey. Guess who I am." (He plops a sea sponge on his head. His wife looks at him, smiles wanly and goes back to what she was doing. Then Dad stands up, soap bubbles all over him, and the sponge on his head.) "Come on. ... Who am I? ... SpongeBob!" (He gestures downward, below the view of the camera.) "No pants."
Mom: "Wow." (As in, "Wow, what an idiot you are." She walks out of the room.)
Dad: "I live in the sea, honey. In a pineapple. SpongeBob NoPants!"
Voice-over: "SpongeBob fever is spreading. Grab some spicy chicken fries and SpongeBob toys. Only at BK."
Pondering some questions
Got it? He's standing in the bathtub, and his wife can see him naked. Now, let us ponder some questions, not necessarily in the order the Rev. Wildmon would select.
1) Will a joke about a father's random goofiness scan with the 8-year-old target audience? No, not much -- but this is one audience that nonetheless pays close attention to anything on TV, even if it doesn't get the jokes. To wit: the absurd SpongeBob SquarePants show itself. So, even if the kids are left cold by the comedy, the nagging for a BK visit will occur as planned.
2) Is the comedy actually funny? Yes, it is very, very funny -- not so much because of the silly premise, but because of the acting. Mom (Kristen O'Mera) lowering her eyes to check out her bubbled-over husband, and her utterly indicting, utterly un-wowed "Wow" are hilarious. And so is Dad's (Brogan Roche) deadpan semi-enthusiasm.
3) Is this material inappropriate for children, on implied-full-frontal-nudity grounds? No, for God's sake, of course not.
It's not as though this is somehow erotic. It's not as though there is any prurient appeal intended or achieved. It's Dad being goofy, period. Maybe some little kids watching will scream, "Ewwwwww! He's naked!" But that's not being scarred; that's being a little kid. Children aren't seeing exposed genitalia, for crying out loud. They're seeing a guy, covered in bubbles, with a sea sponge on his head. Exactly how will that image defile them? Perhaps what it might do is teach them that a little absurd silliness can be surprising and fun.
4) Is Wildmon ever right? Yeah, sometimes he's right. The culture is coarsening, and the networks are very lax about protecting kids from gratuitous sex and violence.
5) But should we worry about the wanton attacks of fundamentalist fanatics as they wage their cultural holy war?
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Title: No Pants
Marketer: Burger King
Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky