We are so pleased to repost (by permission) this incredibly well-written article by Thembisa Mshaka, critically acclaimed author and music industry veteran. She recently wrote Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [Entertainment] Business, a thorough manual for anyone thinking or dreaming of getting into the entertainment business.
When we saw this commercial, we were disappointed and shocked for a myriad of reasons. We think back to previous ad fails like M.C. Hammer’s KFC commercials and wander what the thought process was behind the conception and execution of these spots, which puts the Burger King brand and the reigning Queen of Hip Hop Soul in a very bad light in our book. We cannot overemphasize our love for Mary, her music and past positive contributions, but this is not a good look.
Here is Thembisa’s article in its entirety:
Burger King is touting its new menu with celebrity ads featuring late night host Jay Leno, actor and director Salma Hayek, soccer icon David Beckham, and Mary J. Blige, the Grammy(r) winning Queen of Hip Hop Soul. The campaign centers around several new items including: a strawberry-banana smoothie, a garden fresh chicken salad, fried chicken strips, and a 3-cheese (again fried) chicken wrap with lettuce.
Im posting all three spots here so you can watch them and then, I will break down 5 ways Mary got played, and how Burger King missed the mark.
Heres Marys (it was blocked on YouTube but we found it anyway):
Leno and Black friend:
Salmas commercial, which is in Spanish:
And smooth operator Beckham:
Top 5 Ways Mary Gets The Short End of the Chicken Strip
1. Attitude: of all the endorsers, Mary is the only one who is rude, terse, and invasive. She interrupts the store manager with a sound-check type mic squealfrom ATOP a restaurant table. Leno, Salma and Beckham have sweet, fun dispositionsand are ALL at the counter, like normal people. Mary appears out of nowwhere, mad for no reason, over the contents of a chicken wrap, which she proceeds to outline in a song where shes not so much singing as belting.
2. Selling the unhealthiest item of them all: The statistics around heart disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension are downright catastrophic for African Americans, especially Black women, who relate directly to Mary. Unlike Leno and Hayek, who get to sell choices that include a smoothie and a salad, she is selling one product: the fried chicken wrap. This is not just stereotypical. It is the use of her well-constructed and hard-won brand to sell Burger Kings least healthy offering to her core audience. I almost wish there was a please eat responsibly tag at the end like alcohol ads have. I understand that chicken needs to be advertised like any other product, and that African Americans will do it, from known stars like MC Hammer for KFC to working actors like the Popeyes pitchwoman. This one-note execution misses a huge opportunity for Mary to offer (or exercise) choice, which is more problematic than the selling of chicken in general.
3. Use/Misuse/(Abuse?) of Talent: Salma Hayek gets to showcase her versatility as an actor; humorous, sultry, even nerdy. Leno gets to be his snarky self, but remains in control throughout his spot, down to literally driving through the location while his Magical Negro holds his meal.(Oh you didnt get the memo? Magical Negroes dont need food; they have their consciences to sustain them and the members of the dominant group they accommodate).
David Beckham doesnt have to use his talent as an athlete at all! No soccer gear, no kicking a ball at the counter. He gets to be gorgeous and hypnotic for men and women alike. Mary? She has to sing her way through the commercial after busting in on it.
She doesnt get to be her witty, honest, wise-beyond-her-years, confident self. She doesnt even get to perform before a throng of an audience in the locations parking lot block-party style. Shes got a crowd of about five halfway enjoying the songbecause its terrible. Where was the well-crafted song about this product, written and or produced by anyone from Pharrell to Stevie Wonder? This whole scene flies directly in the face of Bliges power and appeal. Speaking of power and appeal:
4. Poor positioning: this ad makes Mary look out of place, uncool, desperate. Attributes I would have been hard pressed to associate with her until now. You mean to tell me that wide, gray Jay Leno looks cooler than MJB, the *only* woman who can say shes sung with Biggieand Bono, in this campaign?
Mary J. Blige has been a great pitchwoman in several categories: beauty (Carols Daughter), automotive (Chevy), and telecom (T-Mobile). All very stylish, elegant representations of a woman who knows and respects herselfand demands as much from the world. All with great uses of her own recorded music; no tired awkward jingles. This commercial feels like something an artist does to get back in the gamebut shes already at the top of hers.
As someone who has written commercial campaigns and done shoots with Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, and Queen Latifah, I cant see any of them positioning themselves similarly in a commercial at the heights of their careers and brand value to a corporation. This is not to say they were not pitchwomen: Latifah voiced Pizza Hut commercials and is a Cover Girl. Lauryn Hill wore Levis throughout her world tour for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Beyonce shook her booty for Pepsi and DirecTV. But all of these moves had a context and ultimately made them look goodor at least like they were in control. Artists at this level shut down creative like this at script phase. This move by Mary has me scratching and shaking my head.
5. Not A Good (Style) Look: A 20-year veteran of music, Mary J. Blige is well beyond style missteps. She has set innumerable style trends, from combat boots in the 90s to blond wigs in the new millennium. She gave women permission to flaunt their tattoos, bare a gold-capped tooth, uncover facial scarsand still be beautiful.
She made round-the way girls feel like high fashion shades and luxurious apparel was their birthright.
So whyand I want to be diplomatic here because I adore and am inspired by Marywhy is Mary calling to mind wardrobe from the musical Grease in 2012? I honestly thought this was a spoof when I saw it for the first time, largely because of her wardrobe and hair. Mary is a maven, posing at the intersection of street and couture. Except in this commercial.
These observations raise a larger issue: the tone-deaf representation of Black women in advertising. The perpetuation of the stank, sassy, abrasive but entertaining soul sista doesnt reflect who Black women really are: women concerned about their health; parents making food choices for their children; consumers who spend with brands that understand and connect authentically with them. Had Mary outlined the choices from the menu and chosen the chicken wrap from the drive-through in her Maybach, then hummed with joy at the taste of it, I might not be so salty.
Burger King and Mary J. Blige missed a grand opportunity for an #AdWIN here.