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Undressing Salad Dressing: How Sex Still Sells

Inside One Million Moms' beef with Kraft's beefcake ad—and what it means for brands that won't back down.

Marketing and branding these days is like swimming in shark-infested waters covered in blood; You can’t help but get bit.

As I noted in my previous posts regarding accusations of Mountain Dew being racist, Chipotle being anti-Boy Scout, and Abercrombie & Fitch being...well, anti-fat, controversy seems to be an unavoidable fact of life for most brands seeking to pump up their profile in the marketplace.

However, sometimes that controversy works in favor of the brand. As this AdWeek article details, Kraft had the audacity to publish a two-page spread (and yes, it is quite a spread) for their Zesty Italian salad dressing featuring a very hot guy with nothing on but a strategically placed corner of a picnic blanket. Yes, it was beyond zesty—it was über-zesty—and that was way too much zest for a certain advocacy group with the name of One Million Moms.

These seven-figure mothers called for a boycott of Kraft products on their website a couple of weeks ago, saying, "Christians will not be able to buy Kraft dressings or any of their products until they clean up they're advertising." Really? Have these people ever been to the beach? Because the hunk in the ad isn’t showing any more than a guy in a Speedo would on Miami Beach.

Then again, this particular organization takes prudish to a whole new level. They describe the ad as "a n*ked man lying on a picnic blanket with only a small portion of the blanket barely covering his g*vitals [asterisks theirs)."

Companies that are targeted by niche groups like this often respond with half-hearted apologies or even by yanking the campaign. Kraft, I’m happy to say, doubled-down on its zesty ways—and came back at the Million Moms with a simple, strong statement: "Our Kraft dressing's 'Let's Get Zesty' campaign is a playful and flirtatious way to reach our consumers. People have overwhelmingly said they're enjoying the campaign and having fun with it."

And it’s clear they ARE having fun with it—even with Kraft’s equally zesty TV commercial featuring yet another buff bro in a see-through apron. Here are a few user comments on this particular piece of meat:

"I don't even like salad but if he comes with it I will buy every container in existence. Every. Single. One."

"Can I please be that apron?"

"And now all us girls understand how guys feel when their beer commercials come on."

Using sex to sell has been a device utilized since the dawn of advertising in 1871, when cigarette brands discovered the power of the female form (you can see for yourself if you click here—which I wouldn’t advise if you’re a member of the One Million Moms)!.

This post isn’t meant to belittle anyone, but there is clearly a need for a brand to stand up to bullying from those who haven’t quite come to grips with the 21st century—or possibly even the 20th century—as of yet. And thankfully, that’s a trend which is in full swing.

For example, the last fight the One Million Moms picked was with J.C. Penney, because that merchant DARED to hire Ellen DeGeneres to star in a Christmas commercial last December—and that was a problem because the comedian is openly gay. The store chain refused to back down.

More recently, a brouhaha erupted because General Mills featured an interracial couple in an ad for their breakfast cereal, Cheerios. Cheerios again refused to pull the ad—and the brand was rewarded for its courage: Cheerios’ online branding shot up by 77% after public sentiment backed their position. The moral of the story? When a company takes the right stand, it boosts their brand and turns them into social media heroes.

And the best part? That stand can even be a sexy one.

[Sexy Salad: Nils Z via Shutterstock]