For Immediate Release
CCFC to Nickelodeon: Did You Approve the SpongeBob SquareButt Burger King Commercial?
BOSTON - The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is asking whether
Nickelodeon Television President Cyma Zarghami approved the controversial
SpongeBob SquareButt television commercial. More than 2,600 CCFC
members have written to Nickelodeon and Burger King in the past 48 hours urging
the companies to pull the ad which features King, the Burger King mascot, singing
a remix of Sir Mix-A-Lot's 1990's hit song, "Baby Got
Back" with the new lyrics, "I like square butts and I cannot
lie." The ad shows images of The King singing in front of women
shaking their behinds for the camera intercut with images of SpongeBob dancing
"Parents deserve to know whether Nickelodeon-the most
popular children's television network-signed off on the use of
SpongeBob in a commercial that celebrates lechery and objectifies women,"
said CCFC director Dr. Susan Linn.
Yesterday, Burger King responded to criticisms by disingenuously
claiming that the ad -which is for Kids Meals and features perhaps
the most popular children's television character - was aimed at
adults. The ad ran during Monday Nights Men's NCAA Championship,
which aired at 6:00 pm on the West
Coast. Nickelodeon has yet to respond publicly.
CCFC's letter to Nickelodeon is below:
Ms. Cyma Zarghami, President
New York, NY
SENT VIA FAX
Dear Ms. Zarghami,
We are writing to ask whether you or anyone at Nickelodeon approved the
new "SpongeBob SquareButt" television commercial that is currently
airing for Burger King Kids Meals. As you are probably aware, more than
2,600 members of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have asked
Nickelodeon and Burger King to pull the commercial. It's bad enough
when a character popular with children, like SpongeBob SquarePants, is used to
promote junk food, but it's absolutely egregious when that character
simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women.
Yesterday, Burger King responded via a marketing trade publication to
complaints about the ad. While their response was disingenuous -
they claimed the ad for Kids Meals featuring SpongeBob was aimed at adults
- at least they responded. We suspect Burger King, which positions
itself as an edgier alternative to other fast food chains, actually welcomes
the publicity from this controversy.
But we wonder why a children's television station like Nickelodeon
would want to link one of its most popular and profitable characters to this sort
of lechery and objectification of women. That's why we are asking
if you approved the use of SpongeBob in this commercial (and the longer
Internet viral video, which is frankly even more disturbing).
If you did - and do - approve, is this part of a new trend
at Nickelodeon? Is there a plan at Nickelodeon to make your most famous
characters edgier in order to maintain their appeal to children as they grow
up? We can't help but notice the connection between this ad and the
new tween Dora doll, which will distinguish itself from earlier incarnations of
Dora by focusing on fashion and her appearance. We think parents of
children who watch your programming would appreciate hearing answers to these
We are attaching an email from the mother of two young children who
were watching the NCAA championship when the ad was aired. We look
forward to your response, and would be happy to discuss our members concerns
From: Mindy Holohan [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 12:38 PM
Subject: Re: Tell Nick and Burger King: SpongeBob and Sexualization Don't Mix
I can not express how happy I am to see the immediate action being taken in response to this ad. When we viewed it during the game, I said to my husband that the ad illustrates exactly how horribly mixed up and misdirected advertising has become. My husband is currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University and both of my parents are dedicated alumni. Due to these connections, our daughters ages 6 & 11 were very excited to support the Spartans and were allowed to stay up late to watch MSU in the championship game. Children all across our state were allowed to do the same. Anticipating inappropriate advertising, we chose to take some of the edge off by muting the commercials. Unfortunately, the sexual innuendo and cross-promotional content of the Burger King/Sponge Bob ad came through loud and clear, even without the soundtrack.
As a Michigan resident and parent, I feel incredibly violated by the tactics of Burger King and Nickelodeon. They obviously knew that children would be watching the game or else they would not have invested in such valuable ad space to promote a kids meal. The suggestiveness of the dancing and the exploitation of the female dancers is bad enough. Sexualizing a popular children's character and child-centered products is unforgivable. I am so grateful that my children are on spring break this week as I predict that this ad, above all of those that we were exposed to during the NCAA playoff game, will be the one that children are acting out and imitating in schools and with their peers over the next few days. The combination of the comical "burger king", the catchy beat, the "bootylicious" language and Sponge Bob SquarePants just about ensures that this is so. It also sets a new low for an increasingly exploitative industry that consistently demonstrates little to no respect for the wellbeing of children.
Grand Rapids, MI
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals who care about children. CCFC is a project of Third Sector New England (www.tsne.org).