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Hardee’s is Holier Than Thou

Hardee’s “Name Our Holes” campaign sure has lathered up the Internet. AdAge recently calls Hardee’s out for “upping the ante in the fast-food smutfest,” and Reuters dismisses the campaign as “obnoxious.” Which it is. But it is also hilarious.

At least, I think it’s hilarious. I understand why some folks don’t. But let’s look at this in context. There has been a rash of distasteful fast food ads in recent months. It’s apparently difficult to sell a sandwich these days without a perverted oven asking for some hot beef, a thinly-veiled fellatio reference, or French Maids on Segways. It’s easy to see why some claim advertising has reached an all-time low, but isn’t something else going on here?

In an age when brands are becoming content, why are we holding advertising to a different standard than our entertainment?

Over the past few years we’ve seen a rennaissance of R-rated comedies, from “40-Year Old Virgin” and “Superbad” to “Bruno,” “Role Models” and “The Hangover.” We’ve seen Flight of the Conchord‘s “Business Time” and SNL‘s “D*ck in a Box” spread like swine flu. The Web gives brands the freedom to speak to their consumers as their consumers speak to eachother. It ensures no collateral damage to unintended, underage audiences. And as brands evolve to speak with, not just to, their consumers, expect them to sound even more like we do.

Bud Light has led the way in this regard. 2007′s online-only “Swear Jar” has been viewed by millions, and the more recent “Porno Guy” suggests even porno has lost its taboo (just ask Zack and Miri).

The cultural shift and distribution method of the Hardee’s campaign aren’t the only reason it works. Unlike other fast-food ad perversion, the campaign is Borat-ian in nature, setting up the audience and interviewees to provide the punch lines:

Hardee’s asks a simple question, then lets the consumer be the one to say things like “golden holes,” “tasty nuts,” “sweet sugar balls” and “the A-hole tastes funny.” Not just casually, but with conviction. This innocence turns what could be uncomfortably inappropriate conversations into the sort that serve as tension breakers, bringing out into the open that which is talked about behind closed doors. I can speak from experience on this. I worked in a bakery for a while. If you think that jokes about Long Johns didn’t fly, then you’re mistaken. Not to mention any pastry name that involved the word “horn.”

Like good friends, Hardee’s pokes fun at its consumers (and skewers the traditional focus group). Best of all, its sexual references are not a bludgeon, but a reflection of the little moments of tension and hilarity that happen when you catch any of us with our guard down. The ads may be lewd, but they’re on the funnier, Schweddy side of lewd. They may not suit your taste, but I give Hardee’s b-hole two thumbs up.



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