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Are Burger King Ad Men Really Mad Men?

Posted by: David Kiley on August 21, 2008


For the second time in two days I am writing about how the interests of ad executives can run divergent to the interests of their work for clients. It’s a good thing to be able to write about.

Ad Age Creativity noticed that Crispin Porter+Bogusky chief creative officer Alex Bogusky and chairman Chuck Porter have penned a new book, “The 9-inch Diet.” Having lunched with Bogusky, I first thought the title referred to the waist-line of the hunky and talented Brad-Pittesque Bogusky.

Thanks to for the above photo.

But check out the ad copy surrounding the book: The book will focus on “proportion distortion,” how our plates and average serving sizes have increased over the past few decades to secretly forge a nation of fatties….the catalog compares the book with Fast Food Nation and The Portion Teller: Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Loss… and the catalog says “With years of experience manipulating the masses, two of the best tricksters in the industry explain how you as a consumer are being duped, and how you are actually a part of the conspiracy to make you fat.”

The irony is that the agency has made its name in recent years with its Burger King work, though it is also launching a campaign for Microsoft now, and continues to do ad work for Volkswagen among others.

I spoke with Bogusky last week about the book. He describes the apparent disconnect between is diet book and his BK business as “maybe a bit of creative tension.” I asked him about the practice of fast-fooders like BK of constantly up-sizing meals. “Burger King doesn’t want people to eat too much, or to get fat,” says Bogusky. But, he adds, there is an expectation on the part of the consumer to associate volume with value.

The nine-inch diet has a lot to do with the size plates Americans use. He happened on the issue a few years ago when he tried putting away a new set of plates in an antique china cabinet, he told me. “They didn’t fit at all…and I thought, what’s going on here.” What went on was the super-sizing of everything from french fry serving sizes to plates.

The timing of the book, set for a January release when New Year’s diet resolutions are fresh and not yet hopeless, might be better now— on the heels of the latest report saying we are more obese than ever. Bogusky says there is a possibility that it will ship by November.

Earlier this week, I blogged on the irony [in my mind anyway] of ad agency Modernista!, which handles Hummer ads [and has also done work for Businessweek], also doing ad work for a gun control organization.

It makes me wonder if the fictional ad agency in AMC’s Mad Men, Sterling Cooper, will take on an effort to convince people that smoking is unhealthy.

I’m looking forward to reading Bogusky’s book, because I am interested in the topic, and because I somewhat know the guys who wrote it. I don’t know if they will divulge some of the intell they have probably soaked up over the years: some of the research on fat, salt, portion sizes and fast-food pricing that Burger King and McDonald’s live by?; or the fact that the fake sweetener Nutrasweet in soft drinks that makes people think they can drink all they want is actually an appetite stimulant?

But it should add to the national dialogue about how America got so fat.

Reader Comments


August 28, 2008 6:58 AM

Totally agree that americans are miss led and conditioned by society on what is expected in food porportions.
I personally stopped giving burgerking my business because the commercials were getting so stupid. they seem to think that trying to kill someone is funny and makes you want to get food. huh?????
In their defense they are not the only culprits in this disstorted disception.

Dick Schneider

October 21, 2008 12:52 AM

I can spot a Crispin Porter+Bogusky ad a mile away. They're stupid and creepy. The agency is much the same way, having set up a non-Miami shop in Boulder, CO (after having the employees vote of where to go). They remain isolated in the elitist town, don't mix with the local production community (which is huge). They also are producing the current crop of crappy and stupid VW ads.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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