In a news release Friday, One Million Moms said the ad was “damaging to impressionable children,” who tend to repeat what they hear. “The language in the commercial is offensive, and it’s sad that this once family restaurant has made yet another deliberate decision to produce a controversial advertisement instead of a wholesome one."
The group then asked objectors to sign a petition calling on Burger King to cancel the commercial or edit out the word “damn.” Burger King did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would alter or remove the ad, or if it had responded to the group.
Timothy Jay, a professor of psychology emeritus at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who has closely studied the use of profanity, said words like “damn” would have been censored a century ago under the influence of the Catholic Church. But now, even as cursing has become more mainstream, “the religious right is obviously more empowered by the conservative climate we have right now, so that’s why it hits a nerve,” Jay said.
“What they’re complaining about is not banned,” Jay said. “There’s no regulation on profanity. You see profanity in the newspaper. I see it in comic strips. This is part of that rolling-back to when ‘we’re great again.’ ”
President Trump routinely swears at rallies and on his Twitter feed. His occasional use of “goddamn” has been criticized by the religious right and church leaders who say the word takes God’s name in vain. But word choice doesn’t necessarily rank as a top issue when evangelical voters go to the polls.
Democratic leaders have dropped the d-word, too. When discussing Medicare-for-all during a CNN debate with other presidential hopefuls, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “I wrote the damn bill.” His campaign even rolled out stickers with the slogan, the Hill reported. Before he dropped out of the race, former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) was well-known for cursing.
Angeline Close Scheinbaum, associate professor of marketing at Clemson University, said companies are after “brand authenticity” with their marketing: capturing raw, unedited emotions that convey a lasting message.
“In this case we’re talking about an edgy brand who’s pushing the envelope,” Close Scheinbaum said. “If this were Chick-fil-A, absolutely not. Hard stop.”
But even “edgy” ads have their limits, Close Scheinbaum said, adding that Burger King could have used footage of a customer who was just as enthusiastic about his burger and didn’t swear.
“Then they get the best of both words — they’re getting that real customer reaction and they’re not risking alienating a key market,” she said.
It’s unclear whether One Million Moms — a division of the American Family Association, a nonprofit evangelical Christian group that opposes LGBTQ rights and other causes — is as large as its name suggests. The American Family Association did not respond for a request for comment on the Burger King campaign. As Monday afternoon, more than 9,500 people had “taken action” on the Burger King issue.
One Million Moms has coordinated a number of high-profile campaigns, though not always successful ones. On its website, it takes credit for KitKat revising a commercial “full of sexual innuendos.” It also has targeted television programs and their sponsors, lauding the cancellations of “Once Upon a Time” (for introducing lesbian characters), “The Mick” (“degrading and sex-filled”) and “Lucifer” (“glorifies Satan”).
It also has active campaigns against Kellogg’s, which it accuses of using popular cereal mascots “to push the LGBTQ agenda on children,” and Mattel, regarding the launch of its gender-inclusive doll. It also has called out Barnes & Noble for carrying “If You Give a Pig the White House” by Faye Kanouse, a book that the group contends “gravely disrespects” Trump.