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Do I light your fire?

Updated: 5 days ago

Every so often at The Unmistakables, we like to have a debate about current events and popular media. This week, a LinkedIn post featuring a new campaign for Burger King in Brazil sparked conversation at our Monday meeting. The campaign features older couples engaging in various acts of intimacy, from making out in cars at the drive-thru to sharing fries Lady-and-the-Tramp-style. 


As a team, we varied in our gut reactions. Generally, we all agreed that we don’t see a lot of media featuring affection between people past the age of 40. Content in the UK that sexualises people or features displays of affection tends to centre on those in their late teens and twenties. And our media is obsessed with youth as a synonym for beauty–particularly for women. So, it’s no surprise that older couples are not the default when we consider who is desirable or easily sexualised. 


But when you think about it, it’s really unfair– your desire for intimacy doesn’t disappear the minute you hit 40. However, this isn’t something we even talk about in our society, let alone see displayed on a billboard or Netflix. So when someone broaches the topic, it makes waves - take a look at the Rotten Tomatoes reviews of ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,’ a 2022 film about a retired woman who hires a young sex worker to help her experience an orgasm. Critics particularly appreciated the film’s reflections on the shame and taboos that surround older people’s sexualities. 


But given these kinds of films aren’t the norm, it made sense that some of our colleagues initially felt that they ‘didn’t need to see older people get their freak on.’ Questions were raised about the target audience for the campaign, as well as societal attitudes to sexuality and public displays of affection in Brazil. We wondered whether Burger King was trying to attract an older demographic, as well as whether they were actively undermining stereotypes around who is considered sexy. One of the creative directors behind the campaign, Sebastian Wilhem, noted that “The fact that their burgers are flame-grilled, that BK’s tone of voice is cheeky, and that old people never get to be sexualised in ads made this idea work for us.”


Some TU colleagues felt generally uncomfortable upon viewing public displays of affection in advertising, regardless of who it was between, preferring more conservative content. They asked whether we should be continuing to use sex to sell in this day and age–and if ‘getting to be sexualised’ was a worthy goal. A few found the campaign endearing and positive, stating, ‘We’ll all get older if we’re lucky–so good for them.’ Others admitted that while they were initially taken aback, they concluded that it was good for the representation of older people to incorporate sexualisation and affection to offer a more rounded and realistic view of ageing and appreciated the opportunity to reflect on their views.


As a team, we found ourselves returning to the notion that creative agencies have a real opportunity to work with their clients to reshape cultural norms by putting forward different kinds of representation, especially unexpected depictions of people that disrupt long-held stereotypes. 


One colleague summarised the conversation neatly: ‘When I was younger, people would say ‘no one wants to see that. But we live longer these days - why shouldn’t people still have fun when they’re older?’ And it’s something the creatives behind the Burger King campaign know– those who direct the media we consume inevitably have a hand in shaping our culture and part of our worldview. It’s whether agencies and brands choose to flex that power responsibly, in the right way, and at the right time that makes an ad genuinely resonate.

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