CCFC to Nickelodeon: Did you approve the SpongeBob SquareButt Burger King commercial?

Date of Release: 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009
Contact:  Josh Golin (617-896-9369; josh<at>
For Immediate Release

CCFC to Nickelodeon:  Did you approve the SpongeBob SquareButt Burger King commercial?

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is asking whether Nickelodeon Television President Cyma Zarghami approved the controversial SpongeBob SquareButt television commercial.   More than 2,600 CCFC members have written to Nickelodeon and Burger King in the past 48 hours urging the companies to pull the ad which features King, the Burger King mascot, singing a remix of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1990’s hit song, "Baby Got Back” with the new lyrics, “I like square butts and I cannot lie.”  The ad shows images of The King singing in front of women shaking their behinds for the camera intercut with images of SpongeBob dancing along.

“Parents deserve to know whether Nickelodeon—the most popular children’s television network—signed off on the use of SpongeBob in a commercial that celebrates lechery and objectifies women,” said CCFC director Dr. Susan Linn. 

Yesterday, Burger King responded to criticisms by disingenuously claiming that the ad –which is for Kids Meals and features perhaps the most popular children’s television character – was aimed at adults.  The ad ran during Monday Nights Men’s NCAA Championship, which aired at 6:00 pm on the West Coast.  Nickelodeon has yet to respond publicly. 

CCFC’s letter to Nickelodeon is below:

Ms. Cyma Zarghami, President
Nickelodeon Television
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

Dear Ms. Zarghami,

We are writing to ask whether you or anyone at Nickelodeon approved the new “SpongeBob SquareButt” television commercial that is currently airing for Burger King Kids Meals.  As you are probably aware, more than 2,600 members of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have asked Nickelodeon and Burger King to pull the commercial.  It’s bad enough when a character popular with children, like SpongeBob SquarePants, is used to promote junk food, but it’s absolutely egregious when that character simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women.

Yesterday, Burger King responded via a marketing trade publication to complaints about the ad.  While their response was disingenuous – they claimed the ad for Kids Meals featuring SpongeBob was aimed at adults – at least they responded.  We suspect Burger King, which positions itself as an edgier alternative to other fast food chains, actually welcomes the publicity from this controversy.

But we wonder why a children’s television station like Nickelodeon would want to link one of its most popular and profitable characters to this sort of lechery and objectification of women.  That’s why we are asking if you approved the use of SpongeBob in this commercial (and the longer Internet viral video, which is frankly even more disturbing).

If you did – and do – approve, is this part of a new trend at Nickelodeon?  Is there a plan at Nickelodeon to make your most famous characters edgier in order to maintain their appeal to children as they grow up?  We can’t help but notice the connection between this ad and the new tween Dora doll, which will distinguish itself from earlier incarnations of Dora by focusing on fashion and her appearance.  We think parents of children who watch your programming would appreciate hearing answers to these questions.

We are attaching an email from the mother of two young children who were watching the NCAA championship when the ad was aired.  We look forward to your response, and would be happy to discuss our members concerns with you.


Susan Linn                                                        Josh Golin
Director, CCFC                                               Associate Director, CCFC




From: Mindy Holohan []
Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 12:38 PM
To: ccfc
Subject: Re: Tell Nick and Burger King: SpongeBob and Sexualization Don't Mix

I can not express how happy I am to see the immediate action being taken in response to this ad.  When we viewed it during the game, I said to my husband that the ad illustrates exactly how horribly mixed up  and misdirected advertising has become.  My husband is currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University and both of my parents are dedicated alumni.  Due to these connections, our daughters ages 6 & 11 were very excited to support the Spartans and were allowed to stay up late to watch MSU in the championship game.  Children all across our state were allowed to do the same.  Anticipating inappropriate advertising, we chose to take some of the edge off by muting the commercials.  Unfortunately, the sexual innuendo and cross-promotional content of the Burger King/Sponge Bob ad came through loud and clear, even without the soundtrack.  

As a Michigan resident and parent, I feel incredibly violated by the tactics of Burger King and Nickelodeon.  They obviously knew that children would be watching the game or else they would not have invested in such valuable ad space to promote a kids meal.  The suggestiveness of the dancing and the exploitation of the female dancers is bad enough.  Sexualizing a popular children's character and child-centered products is unforgivable.  I am so grateful that my children are on spring break this week as I predict that this ad, above all of those that we were exposed to during the NCAA playoff game, will be the one that children are acting out and imitating in schools and with their peers over the next few days.  The combination of the comical "burger king", the catchy beat, the "bootylicious" language and Sponge Bob SquarePants just about ensures that this is so.  It also sets a new low for an increasingly exploitative industry that consistently demonstrates little to no respect for the wellbeing of children.

Mindy Holohan
Grand Rapids, MI