“Dad, which one’s your favorite?” a daughter asks her father as they and her brother are eating chicken in a Golden Corral commercial.
“I’m going to go with Josh,” the dad quickly responds. To which Josh quips, “Yes,” as he pulls down his fist in a signal of victory.
“I’m sorry. What?” the daughters asks. “I was talking about the types of chicken.”
“C’mon, you know I love all my chickens,” the dad responds, apparently putting more thought into the feelings of his chickens than he does his kids. There appears to be at least one more female child at the table who presumably is not the father’s favorite either.
As advertisements go, it’s not the most offensive ad ever run. But it does seem an odd choice for a restaurant that bills itself as having a mission of delivering “a pleasurable dining experience for families across America.” Clearly, the daughter in the ad who, unlike Josh, doesn’t even have a name, may not have found the experience so pleasurable.
Golden Corral offers buffet-style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I cannot vouch for the quality of the food since I have never eaten in one of its restaurants. The closest one to me is 48.9 miles north of me in a different state, according to the company’s website location finder.
But the company does appear to be community-minded, based on some of its ongoing efforts. It has an annual military appreciation night, where it provides free meals to active and retired members of the military. It sponsors Camp Corral, a free weeklong camp for children of wounded or deceased members of the military. It also has a GC Cares Assistance Fund for its employees who are in need. Eighty-five percent of its employees say Golden Corral is a great place to work, according to the Great Place to Work Institute. None of these things are referenced in the advertisement.
Teasing a child that she might not be as favored as her brother may have struck an advertising firm as gentle ribbing in which many families engage. But making the daughter the brunt of a joke in an advertisement selling endless plates of differently prepared chicken seems callous. Granted, the father does come off as a bit of a jerk. But that too is an odd choice for an ad trying to lure us in to eat as much chicken as humanly possible in one sitting.
There’s no ethical upside in trying to sell more chicken by sending a message that it’s OK to make a child feel bad about herself. The right thing for any company leaders to ask themselves when creating advertisements is: What message are we sending with this ad?
I’m sure the Golden Corral advertisement is meant to be funny. I’m equally confident that some viewers chuckle upon seeing the advertisement for the first time. But in an effort to get a cheap laugh, is Golden Corral truly sending the message it wants to send? Humor can be a funny thing.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Fourteen years ago, I wrote about another couple of ads (Ikea, Pizza Hut) in which the message was curious. You can find that column and the ads here.)