‘Sexist’ KFC ad sparks outrage

By Nick Hall | 22 Jan 2020 View comments

Anti-exploitation groups are calling for a restaurant-wide boycott, alleging a recently aired KFC ad objectifies women.

The 15-second KFC ad, which has aired both on television and through the company’s YouTube channel features a young woman checking her reflection in the tinted windows of a parked car.

The woman, dressed in a low-cut top adjusts her breasts, before the window suddenly lowers, revealing two boys staring, open mouthed, as an older woman looks on disapprovingly from the driver’s seat.

KFC ad response

The KFC ad has polarised viewers online, with some labelling the backlash as an attack on Aussie humour, however advocacy group Collective Shout doesn’t see the funny side.

Melinda Liszewski, spokeswoman for the anti-sexualisation and exploitation organisation said the KFC ad was a regression to tired and archaic stereotypes.

“Ads like this reinforce the false idea that we can’t expect better from boys. It is another manifestation of the ‘boys will be boys’ trope, hampering our ability to challenge sexist ideas which contribute to harmful behaviour towards women and girls, Liszewski said in a statement posted to the Collective Shout website.

“The research is solid: attitudes shape behaviour. A growing number of reports show how re-enforcing of gender stereotypes – including in advertising – contributes to a lesser view of women, resulting in their mistreatment”

The spokesperson went on to suggest the latest KFC ad directly contradicted the progressive societal goals laid out in the government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022.

“Governments are putting millions of dollars into ‘respectful relationships’ programs in schools. At the same time corporates like KFC – which claims to care about young people – undermine these goals,” Liszewski said.

KFC apologises

With Collective Shout calling for a network-wide boycott of the chain, KFC was forced to issue a public apology on Tuesday.

“We apologise if anyone was offended by our latest commercial. Our intention was not to stereotype women and young boys in a negative light,” the chicken chain said in a statement.

It’s not the first time KFC has faced criticism for over-sexualisation in its advertising. Back in 2016, the fast-food chain came under fire for an #NSFW or ‘Not Suitable For Work’ marketing campaign that was removed just one hour after launching due to public backlash.

But despite a progressive movement away from objectification, breaking the bonds between sexualisation and advertising is still an uphill battle.

Sexualisation in the media

Marketing experts Lauren Gurrieri from RMIT University, Mandy McKenzie from the University of Melbourne and Megan Bugden from La Trobe University suggest objectification in advertising is a trope as old as time.

“Our research suggests the advertising industry’s standards for judging sexism are, like the world depicted in the television series Mad Men, stuck in the past,” they said.

“One of the biggest problems is the (advertising industry’s ethical) code only considers ads in isolation. It doesn’t take into account their cumulative effect.”

The evidence is certainly there. In its 2018 Review of Operations Report, industry regulator Ad Standards revealed it had dismissed 82.58 per cent of all complaints against advertising campaigns that year.

While it is yet to be confirmed if the KFC ad will be officially removed from circulation, Gurreiri, McKenzie and Bugden suggest now is the time to drop the sexualisation trope from the marketing playbook.

“In the 1960s advertisers were blissfully unaware of the impacts of casual sexism and stereotypes. We now have ample evidence it’s not just harmless fun. It’s time for the industry to show it’s not living in the past.”