This week Burger King rolled out a brand new ad campaign starring heavyweights like Salma Hayek, Jay Leno, David Beckham, and the lovely Mary J. Blige. The campaign, meant to highlight the fast food chain's new offerings, features Hayek pretending to be everything from a "dorky" girl to a seductress; Beckham being the charmer that women across the globe have come to fantasize about and Leno driving a car from his famed collection placing an order and handing it to his food-holding-person-riding-shotgun. All three are approaching the counter, placing an order, easily granted the attention of everyone in the room. Their eyes are transfixed upon the celebrity. Each one is there to woo and wow, there is no question about that.
Blige, with one of the longest careers of this bunch, and countless awards earned during her tenure, looks more like an employee. A nice, pleasant looking White man asks a cashier "What's in that new snack wrap?" at which point Mary interrupts the store manager – because she's got the 411, hun – with a microphone, standing on a table, dressed like a 1960s gang leader ready to woo Danny Zuko, and hair reminiscent of something you might've seen on a Stylistic, a Dell, a Blue Note… anything but our beloved Mary.
…And then, she sings. About a chicken wrap. A salt-loaded tortilla-wrapped missile of cheap chicken, wilted and nutritionally sparse iceberg lettuce, processed cheese product, and ranch dressing (which is often just mayonnaise, parsley, garlic and MSG, a neurotoxin) was what our beloved Mary J. was asked to interrupt the nice people's conversation to sing about. Word?
There are a few peculiar things about this ad campaign: First, it's obvious that, just as Salma's commercial will likely air during Spanish-language and Latino/Latina-friendly programming, and Beckham's commercial will likely air on channels like Lifetime, Mary's commercial was made for Black-friendly programming. It's hard to ignore that Mary's commercial was the only one that didn't actually talk about any other item on the new menu – like, for instance, the salad? – and was pushing what could be considered the least healthy item on the new menu. And, while it's clear the marketing team thought they'd play up on Mary's "edginess," – Black, tattoos, bling, nails, blonde hair…she's a rebel, right? – Mary… actually hasn't been "edgy" for a while. She's "No More Drama" now, remember?
Considering that such a high percentage of Blacks in America are at least overweight, the ad feels a bit creepy. Predatory, even. The Black presence in the other ads are scarce, but the ad centered around the fried chicken wrap feels like it's meant specifically to be relatable for the Black community. I mean, passionate singing, strong bass line underneath it, a crowd of onlookers ceremoniously raising the roof, fried chicken… this is what a hip-hop concert looks like, right?
Is it so wrong that I wish Mary and her camp would've flipped over a table – you know, with her edginess – and said "Damn, can I at least sing about a grilled chicken salad? Give the fried chicken to Beckham!" Maybe she would've cleared off the desk and said "If you're gonna use me to sell this cheap mess, don't have me on some table singing about chicken!" I would've even loved for her to say "Can I at least just sing my order at the register, instead of being the rude, edgy, leather-clad Black chick standing up on your nice table where people eat singing about ranch dressing?" But alas, that's just my fantasy.
Nine Grammy awards, four American Music Awards, multiple platinum plaques, and Mary is singing about chicken on top of tables in a Burger King looking like a Grease stand-in. My celebrity friends, listen. Avoid the fried chicken ads. We, the Black Delegation, beg this of you. Even if some of us do happen to like our chicken fried, it never comes across well for you or your brand. You will forever be branded as "Dang, man, you remember her on that table singing about chicken?" Look at Hammer – we still haven't forgotten how he practically hit us with a full typewriter over some popcorn chicken. Don't do this to yourselves, and don't do this to us…It's 2012, and someone you know and love is suffering from heart disease, type-2 diabetes or some other form of disease closely related to poor eating habits. Use your celebrity for good. Promote a salad. Something. Anything.
Just… back away from the chicken.