PR Failure #9: Jack In The Box’s Careless #MeToo Moment

Aaron Blank / September 7, 2018

 

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Another Month, Another Blunder.
Throughout this year, we at The Fearey Group have made it a goal to study public PR failures, learning from them and growing as an agency in the process. It’s an inevitable truth that we all make mistakes, but it isn’t so much the failure that speaks volumes – it’s the steps you take in the wake of one. Read about July’s misstep here.
August’s PR blunder was a bit of a no-brainer, as it made everyone’s eyebrows raise a little higher than normal. Yeah, you guessed it, we’re talking about Jack In The Box.
The Story:
Jack In The Box, the fast-food chain known for their curly fries and late-night grub, released a commercial in August to promote the newest addition to their menu: Teriyaki Bowls. The nearly one-minute media spot featured a not-so-subtle sexual innuendo made by Jack, the company’s mascot and fictitious CEO in the corporate office. The commercial drew the ire of those who saw past its thinly veiled metaphor, “Jack’s Bowls” (with a hashtag to match, by the way) as a clear reference to male genitalia. You have to see it to believe it.
There were over a dozen references to Jack’s Bowls, including those from female co-workers saying, “Those are some nice bowls,” and “Everyone’s gonna want to get their hands-on Jack’s bowls.” Seriously.
The reactions to the commercial were met with mixed emotions — some found it humorous, while others found it straight-up inappropriate.
After receiving some backlash, Jack In The Box and its ad agency, David & Goliath, released a joint statement defending the ad and denying claims that it pokes fun at sexual harassment in the workplace.
“As a brand known by its fans for its tongue-in-cheek, playful sense of humor, this ad is simply a creative and humorous expression around the teriyaki bowl product,” the joint statement reads. “It intends to highlight how a burger brand, such as Jack In The Box, dares to go beyond the usual fast-food fare and serve something different. This ad is not diminishing any movement, and we stand firmly against any form of harassment and value those who have the guts to combat it.”
The Mistake(s)
1. Insensitivity to the Current Cultural Climate
AdWeek’s Creative and Innovation Editor, David Griner, called the commercial, “One of the Most Tone-Deaf Ads of the #MeToo Era.” As movements such as #MeToo are gaining traction and heightening awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, this commercial seems to be pushing society in the opposite direction.
In a recent survey by Sprout Social, the majority of consumers actually want brands to take a stand on social and political issues. (Nike’s recent hiring of Colin Kaepernick is a perfect example of that!) The survey also found that 47 percent of consumers are receptive to brands communicating their positions on issues through television or radio and 58 percent were receptive through social media. Jack In The Box’s choice to make an ad that can easily be interpreted as curtailing the legitimacy of the #MeToo movement sends a message to consumers that this fast food chain is out of touch with today’s cultural climate. It’s time to take your ear muffs off, Jack!
2. Alienating Your Audiences and Customers
Jack In The Box is known for their quirky commercials, and it’s clear the company believes this ad will appeal to an audience who “gets” the humor. And while it is important to know your audience, they have drawn a clear and definitive line between the customers who “get it” and those who don’t – a move that has damaged their reputation. Some of the tweets denouncing the ad make that clear:
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3. Putting Into Question Your Own Corporate Culture
Griner argues that choosing to promote sexualized humor in the workplace is detrimental to your overall brand. It sends the wrong message to your employees, putting them in an awkward position to either complain or tolerate the behavior. It shifts the focus away from promoting the actual product by putting into question your own company’s environment, ethics and values. In other words, if Jack In The Box execs see nothing wrong with an ad like this, what do they do to combat inappropriate behavior in the work place? Maybe the company’s climate is great, and they have a very strong stance on sexual harassment. Regardless, this ad has brought with it many skeptical public eyes and opinions. Not good.
4. Staying Silent with No Further Action
After releasing the statement, Jack In The Box has not proceeded with any further action or comment. The company’s official Twitter account, @JacktheBox has not mentioned the ad, responded to users on Twitter, nor have they used the hashtag, #JacksBowls to promote the new product. It is important when dealing with a controversy like this to evaluate all of your communication channels to decide on a comprehensive strategy to move forward. You’re not going to brush this one under the rug.
The Lesson Learned:
How your brand or company executes their messaging and marketing efforts impacts your reputation and it’s important to know your audience. In the case for Jack In The Box, perhaps thinking you know your audience too well can cause your messaging to backfire, pushing your customers to question your company’s culture and values.
By not taking a more nuanced approach in handling the fallout from this campaign, their simple joint statement fell flat. Remember to communicate with your audience, stay transparent and own up to any insensitivities your marketing efforts may bring up.
We’ll see if and how Jack In The Box continues with this perceived edgy approach to their marketing efforts, or if public outcry will play a role in future creative ventures for the brand. It’s always a great idea to think creatively outside of the box, but for Jack there might be some boxes worth staying in.
Be Fearless! Sincerely,
Aaron Blank, CEO & President
The Fearey Group
For more information about The Fearey Group, check us out online at www.feareygroup.com.
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Aaron Blank

CEO & President, Partner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. In 2014, he became the next generation owner of the firm. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day and be fearless!