Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Having sex with a Superstar






Andy Puzder, the President-CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. is as aware as the rest of us that sex sells. He has made a name for his chains and boosted outside-U.S. awareness by using thinly veiled sexual innuendo and outright sexual metaphor in his ads. He remarked that his marketing budget is much less than competitors such as McDonald’s therefore “You need to remember our ads, so it's got to be close to the edge”. Which they certainly are.

In this particular case, the ad shows a picture of the ‘Superstar’, the image and the size of the burger are emphasised, making it more appealing (Snyder & DeBono, 1989). This is no accident as it is essential for setting the backdrop with the statement “She’ll tell you size doesn’t matter. She’s lying”.  As we will see, this is the key selling point for the burger.

This blatant sexual innuendo catches the attention of the consumer as it is an overt phallic reference which is easy for a young, modern audience to connect with independently of gender. Using sex or even just sexual suggestion captures people’s attention (Blair et al, 2006). The arousal caused by sexually oriented stimuli directly relates to the attention paid to the ad and subsequent memory for the ad which is ultimately the goal of advertising. But this line alone is not the ad, it is only the hook.

Sexual suggestion elicits cognitive and affective responses and possibly an innate motive for sexual activity (Holgerson, Belch & Koppman, 1982). Psychological and physiological tension produced by this motive may cause increased cognitive activity directed at the advertised product (Wilson & Moore, 1979). In the case of Carl’s Jr., this ad has made a clear connection between their ‘Superstar’ burger and sex, but the connection is not yet justified.

Bell (1996) suggests there are four components necessary for the success of sexual innuendo in advertising; the first is titillation of public references to taboo topics such as size. Secondly, creating intimacy between the ad and those who understand the message eg introducing a fantasy element. Thirdly, those who understand the message are likely to identify themselves with the use of innuendo and lastly, regardless of whether the person chooses to ignore or accept the obvious message, it has effectively produced an evaluation of the product. So now burger = phallus.

The punch line of the ad is “It’s gonna get messy”, this is the real connection between the ad and actual sex. It is hard to miss that the ‘messy bit’ they refer to relates to ejaculation or at the very least an explicit sexual act. Crucially, by pairing products with things we like such as sex, we begin to associate the features of this with the product. When combining the initial phallic reference with the connotations of an orgasm or indeed sex, what Carl’s Jr. is suggesting, is that eating their ‘Superstar’ is as enjoyable as or comparable to oral sex. 


Belch, M. A., Holgerson, B. E., Belch, G. E., & Koppman, J. (1982). Psychophysiological and cognitive responses to sex in advertising. Advances in consumer research, 9(1), 424-7.

Bell, D. M. (1997). Innuendo. Journal of pragmatics, 27(1), 35-59.

Blair, J. D., Stephenson, J. D., Hill, K. L., & Green, J. S. (2006). Ethics in advertising: Sex sells, but should it. Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, 9(2), 109-118.

Snyder, M., & DeBono, K. G. (1989). Understanding the functions of attitudes: Lessons from personality and social behavior.

Wilson, D. R., & Moore, N. K. (1979). The role of sexually-oriented Stimuli in advertising: Theory and literature review. Advances in consumer research, 6(1), 


Natalie Nash

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this was risky but it works! Maybe a little more emphasis on the principles we talked about in class would have made it better, but the work is well written and research informed.

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