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Collective Shout's letter to KFC heads
KFC's Zinger Popcorn Box ad, which ran on high rotation during the 7 Network 2019-20 Big Bash League cricket broadcast, was a tribute to age-old sexism. The ad featured a young, female festival-goer who - after leaning forward to adjust her low-cut top in the reflection of a parked car window - realises she's given two young boys inside the car an eyeful of her cleavage.
We called KFC out for its 'regression to tired and archaic stereotypes where young women are sexually objectified for male pleasure; and males are helplessly transfixed when confronted with the opportunity to ogle a woman's body'. Our campaign - kicked off after a supporter alerted us to the ad - made international headlines while the ad itself drew the ire of marketing experts around the globe.
In response to complaints made to Ad Standards (which the Ad Standards Community Panel ultimately dismissed), KFC gave a detailed defense of the ad with reference to the AANA Code of Ethics. For example, regarding complaints about exploitative and degrading treatment of women, KFC said:
The act of the woman adjusting her outfit is a commonplace act that both males and females participate in when preparing to attend social events.
The crux of their defense is that the ad was not degrading to women because men adjust their outfits on the way to festivals too. But does commonplace or the fact that both men and women engage in 'outfit adjustment' negate the sexually objectifying features of the ad: the focus on the woman's body parts and the ogling response scripted for the boys? Complaints about the ad certainly did not speak to the gender breakdown of engagement in 'outfit adjustment'. They were directed at the ad's unfavourable portrayal of women: the crystal-clear promotion of the idea that women exist for the male (age providing no boundaries) gaze.
Regarding the ad's treatment of sex, sexuality and nudity, KFC gave the following defense:
KFC strives to create real situations which audiences can relate to; people wanting to look their best at a music festival and the feeling of embarrassment when caught unaware...the festival goer is not shown as encouraging a reaction from the young boys in the car as she is completely unaware of their presence until the end of the Advert. The only purpose of adjusting her clothing is to get ready for the festival. Her behaviour is in no way sexual, but rather depicts the feeling of embarrassment when unaware of being watched.
While KFC on one hand tells us the ad is not degrading to women because men also adjust their outfits, on the other, they admit that this 'awkward moment' is all about humiliation and embarrassment. AKA: degradation.
If this narrative was simply about portraying an 'awkward moment' - one that is equal between men and women in the commonplace act of outfit adjustment - one that chicken will solve - KFC could just as well have used a man adjusting his outfit with little girls looking on. But there are reasons KFC didn't script a man adjusting his testicles in his pants in the faces of underage girls for this 'awkward moments' ad. Ultimately the ad was about trading off of a woman's body to sell product.
Last month we wrote to the heads of KFC to voice our objections to their use of harmful, sexist tropes in their ads. In our letter we highlighted the global body of research that proves the harms of objectification in media and advertising - the devastating, real-life consequences of which are part of women's and girls' daily lived experiences. We pointed out the incompatibility of promoting harmful sexist stereotypes through their ads with their current efforts to address the customer abuse crisis that plagues the fast food industry. We challenged them to do better by centering respect for women and girls in their future ads.
To date, we've had no reply from KFC.
You can read the full letter here, and use the address details to write your own letter to KFC corporate leaders.