May 26, 2007

Carl's Junior's Beef with Jack-in-the-Box

Carl's Jr. is suing Jack in the Box over an ad for Jack in the Box's sirloin burger that makes fun of its Angus burgers. According to Alana Samuels in the LA Times, ("Carl's Jr. has a beef with Jack in the Box advertising" May 26), the claim is that the ad is deceptive.

The joke is that Angus is not a cut of beef like "sirloin" but a breed of cattle, as opposed, for example, to the Texas Longhorn or the several dozen others you can find on the very enjoyable Breeds of Livestock site at Oklahoma State, and that Angus [æŋgəs] sounds somewhat like anus [enəs]. I don't think that Carl's Junior is on strong ground. The ad is pretty obviously intended to be humorous, which should clue in even the uninformed that they should not take it at face value. Nonetheless, it raises an interesting issue, namely what sort of linguistic and cultural knowledge can reasonably be presupposed by advertisers, politicians, and others whose speech is regulated or subject to criticism for deceptiveness? Supposing that the ad were not so obviously humorous and that an immigrant with a limited knowledge of English and beef saw this advertisement and was put off by the idea that Carl's Junior's Angus Burgers were made from meat from the anal region, should Jack in the Box be held responsible for deceptive advertising?

The incident is reminiscent of how P. T. Barnum reportedly increased the rate at which people moved through his museum by placing a sign halfway through with the text "To the Egress". The less informed would not realize that "egress" is a synonym for "exit" and would take it to lead to another exhibit. A similar case is the apparently apocryphal speech in which George Smathers is said to have smeared his opponent Claude Pepper by accusing him of such things as having a sister who was a thespian (a fancy word for "actress" that sounds somewhat like "lesbian").

Posted by Bill Poser at May 26, 2007 07:18 PM