BARBARA KAY: KFC’s ‘hot shot bites’ ad campaign leaves me cold
Walk down the endless hot sauce aisle at any kitchen specialty store and you may conclude, along with me, that the whole concept of hot sauce is an intrinsically masculine obsession.
I deduce this from the names of the various sauces. Their common theme seems to be the gastronomic pleasure to be derived from a taste sensation so extreme it causes pain to the palate, gut and – eventually – the rectum.
Their names indicate a spirit of playful competition: each strives to project both the highest physical risk combined with the lowest sociological male status. Their target market seems to be young, adventurous blue-collar males of, to be kind, arrested development in the humour department. Let’s just say they’re pitching to the polar opposite of metrosexual gourmands who choose their organic arugula by the leaf.
But enough with telling, when showing makes the case. Here is a randomly observed, and very partial list of hot sauces on the market: “Da’ Bomb,” “Trappey’s Red Devil,” “Trailer Trash,” Satan’s Blood,” “Redneck Ass Whoopin’,” “Mean Green Motherf*****,” “Toxic Waste Extract,” “Megasoreass,” and – a personal favourite – “Bin Laden Wanted Dead or Alive Hot Sauce.”
It’s all clean, man/boy mocking fun and obviously a successful marketing technique.
Perhaps it was during a perusal of the hot sauce aisle that a member of KFC’s advertising team got the bright idea of jumping onto a similar humour wagon for KFC’s newest product, “hot shot bites,” chicken nuggets with a kick. But marketing chicken nuggets can’t be targeted at one demographic; it has to be pitched to the general public, so they took the basic idea – that hot sauce releases dormant impulses in an explosive way – and came up with a 18-second ad that they assumed (perhaps correctly) would appeal to a mass audience.
In the commercial, a young man of somewhat nerdy appearance (medium height, a bit flabby, glasses) is holding out a cartoon of KFC hot shot bites to a very pretty young woman, who takes and eats one. Her eyes widen in amazement. The young man asks, “How’s it taste?” Instead of answering, the young woman bitch-slaps him and walks away. The baffled man is seen rubbing his face, while a voiceover says the hot shot bite is “like a slap to the face.” Ha ha.
But it isn’t just a slap to the face, is it? It’s a female slap to a male face. No business in the West would ever show a man slapping a woman in jest. We would be horrified if they did, and rightly so. Domestic violence is not something to be mocked or encouraged. But it is all the time in our culture.
On one episode of the TV show Two and a Half men, a few years ago, Alan, the comic foil, is tasered by a woman for no good reason at all. In fact, it was introduced as simply a more emphatic way of telling him she didn’t want to date him any more. It seemed the audience found him rolling on the floor in agony funnier than her merely slamming the door in his face. I was appalled. But then I know more about female on male violence statistics than the average viewer.
Women assaulting men is a very old trope. There was a time when it was believed that women were never violent by nature, so there once was justification for humour in the sight of a woman rebuffing a man with a smack or hitting him over the head with a frying pan.
But we know now that domestic violence is a two-way street. Sure, women suffer more from male violence than men do from women’s at the extreme end of the violence scale. Nevertheless, the rates of female violence against men are high enough – they are equal in low to moderate violence, including punching, hitting with objects, shoving down stairs, even burning and knifing, for example – that it is time our culture stopped finding female on male violence an appropriate vehicle for comedy.
The marketers who exploit hot sauce for its comic potential hit the sweet spot, the point of inflection where a joke could become offensive but doesn’t. So far I haven’t seen one bottle called “Beat your Gal Black and Blue Hot Sauce.” In trying to expand its target market, KFC screwed up big time.
Both men and women who think violence directed at anyone is not appropriate fodder for humour should send that message to KFC. And if KFC is a socially responsible company, they will withdraw the commercial from circulation.