Model and actress Charlotte McKinney bared (almost) all in Carl's Jr. racy 2015 Super Bowl spot. The ad gained national attention not only for the hamburger chain, but also for McKinney, who prior to the commercial had been mostly famous for her Instagram feed.
In the spot that aired on the West Coast, McKinney promoted the chain's all-natural burger by walking through a farmers' market seemingly naked, covered by cleverly placed fruits and vegetables. It ends, of course, with her taking a big bite out of the burger.
The spot received plenty of backlash, with critics decrying it as sexist and offensive. At the time, Super Bowl commercials were largely catering to a male audience, with beer ads depicting women as nags and spots promising that if a man gives a woman flowers, she will return the favor with sex.
These types of tropes certainly won't fly this year amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, where women are speaking out about sexual harassment and assault. And since then, Carl's Jr. and many other marketers have toned down or abandoned objectifying women in their commercials.
Since then McKinney has appeared in the "Baywatch" movie, competed in season 20 of "Dancing With the Stars" and continues to model for brands like Guess. In an interview with Ad Age, she says being proud of your body doesn't have to be seen as a negative, even in this tense environment. In this Q&A, McKinney speaks about living in the shadow of the Super Bowl ad and how she is moving past being seen as the "hamburger girl." The interview has been lightly edited.
Any time you talk about risqué Super Bowl commercials, the Carl's Jr. one rises to the top. What do you think of the spot looking back on it?
I have been asked this same question so many times now – when you are known for something like that it is all people want to talk about. I got an email about doing this interview and I thought, why don't they just Google search the other interviews I've done. For a really long time any interview or questions about me was about that.
Have you tried to distance yourself from the ad?
I have been trying so hard, but that will always be there and that is part of my life and my career, but I am trying to get a different voice out there. I am not just that girl in that commercial you saw that one time….I am more than that commercial. It's been four years since that commercial, I love that it is still being talked about, but it is something I don't want just to be known for. I want people to know me for my modeling and getting into acting.
Knowing how much you would become synonymous with that ad, is there anything you would have done differently?
It was a huge part of my career and I am so grateful for it. There is nothing I would have done differently. I don't come from a family who worked in the industry – that was my breakout; that was my big moment. I'm not ashamed of it.
How did you handle the criticism?
With anything you do there is going to be someone being negative, but it was nothing you wouldn't see at a day at the beach. It wasn't vulgar; it wasn't hurting someone.
Is there more sensitivity now to these types of ads? Is it harder to do racier content in this environment?
Right now, with what's going on, definitely. But you go on Instagram and everyone is half-naked. It's just part of the culture now. My ad was not nearly as bad as other things you'd see online.
I think we are at a point in world right now, if you are comfortable in your body and you are happy with it – I say go for it. It is powerful. If I can be a voice for feeling comfortable in your own skin, it can be a form of empowerment. It needs to be done tastefully and you don't want to overdo it, but it is important for all girls to feel comfortable in their own skin; it can be a voice to something.
What happened after the ad ran?
The attention was good and I think I took it in a positive way. I didn't think it would be so big, but then there it was on "Good Morning America." I think I handled it the best I could. I took that little five minutes and took it into building a career.
After that Carl's Jr. invited me for another commercial. I did that. I signed with a talent agency, I was modeling still, doing more Guess campaigns. Now all I'm doing is really acting, going out for roles and constantly in auditions.
You recently appeared in the "Baywatch" movie. What has the transition to acting been like?
The transition has been different. I walk into a casting office and I am the hamburger girl. It is still a part of me and it has taken some time to get people to see me differently…I have been lucky to get into some rooms I normally wouldn't be in, but it is a daily hustle trying to get people to see me differently.
What do you hope is next for your career?
Finding roles that you typically wouldn't see me in; more indies. Most of the things I have done are pretty commercial. I am staying creative and working with my acting coach constantly so I am ready for the role when it comes.
I want people to see more of me, not just the glitz and glam…I am always getting from agents that I need to post more [to social media]. I have a hard time. I keep my personal life to myself so I am not posting everything I do. This year, my goal is to try to post not just the perfect picture of Charlotte, but show me and build more of a relationship with the people who follow me. It's definitely tough for me, but it is something I am working on this year, to show more of the rawness.
Do you watch the Super Bowl?
The only thing I do really watch are the commercials. I like more humorous ones like Doritos. Anything too serious during the Super Bowl is kind of a buzzkill.