Lippert: Burger King’s Double Whopper

So many controversies, so little time.
Before I could even weigh in on the outrage over the Burger King spot that mixes a SpongeBob SquarePants giveaway, ostensibly for children, with the creepy King rapping about square-shaped booty, another BK spot, this one shown in the U.K. and Spain and promoting the chili-flavored “Texican Whopper” burger, has drawn fire for insulting Mexicans and defaming the Mexican flag. This latter transgression was serious enough to require a rare apology, as Burger King has announced it will “revise” the ad.

Obviously, the folks at Crispin Porter + Bogusky know that stirring up pop-culture trouble tends to add exponential amounts of free media to any client’s ad budget. Since this happens again and again with Burger King, it would seem the company actually has the stomach for this kind of controversy.
It’s a hit-and-miss proposition, though. I thought “Whopper Virgins” was culturally offensive but that both of these recent ads were funny. But what do I know. Years ago, I watched a roomful of Mexican ad people actually laugh at, and applaud, the “Yo quiero Taco Bell” campaign, which I thought they’d peg as stereotypical and racist.
The “Texican Whopper” spot, rather than being racist or flaggist, is simply a huge campy parody filled with ambiguously gay humor. The American cowboy, in his major set of chaps that he just can’t seem to quit, looks just as ridiculous as the small Mexican wrestler does in his red, white and green spandex. (It’s not like the little guy has the actual Mexican flag draped over his body — the colors and symbols are part of his flamboyant look as lucha libre fighter “El Cachito.”) Jack Black rocked a similar skin-tight tights scenario in Nacho Libre, which even involved a midget wrestler. Black’s big line: “I will miss you, little Chanchito.”

The BK setup offers equal-opportunity denigration. Cachito, who is small like Sancho Panza, advertises for a housemate — and the tall, skinny, Don Quixote-like cowboy shows up at the hacienda with his horse, and moves his saddle right in. “Brought together by destiny,” says the announcer, as the wrestler helps the cowboy open a pickle jar.
“People said it would never work,” we hear, as the cowboy helps his amigo clean the top of a window. It’s clearly a partnership: The cowboy signs the wrestler’s glossy photos and helps him stuff envelopes. Still in his chaps, the cowboy cleans the pool as Cachito swims in his cape. “Somehow, one plus one equals three,” the announcer tells us, but in this case, it equals an outraged letter to the media from the Mexican ambassador to Spain.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S, the whole SpongeBob/BK controversy has played out on TV. To promote a SpongeBob giveaway with the purchase of a value meal (you get a kid’s meal and a toy for an extra 99 cents), Crispin mashed “Baby Got Back,” rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot’s graphic ode to big rumps that was actually censored by MTV when it broke 17 years ago, with the beloved Nickleodeon yellow sponge character. And really, the number of mixed messages in it make my head spin.
First of all, in light of all the misogyny in the rest of hip-hop, “Baby Got Back,” though it features some brutal language and is the last word in objectification, can also be seen as a kind-hearted, anti-anorexia endorsement of the fuller figured female — the kind of body that Kim Kardashian, for better or worse, might not have a career without.
To give credit where credit is due, the BK lyrics are out-of-the-park clever, with lines like “When a sponge walks in, four corners in his pants, like he’s got phone-book implants, the crowd shouts!” Even better is the line from Sir Mix-a-Lot himself: “SpongeBob, I wanna get witcha, cause you’re making me richer.”