Ad Rant: Mental health advocates not so nuts about cheesy Burger King ad

Mental health advocates are not too crazy about Burger King's "Crazy King" campaign. They've attacked it as "blatantly offensive" and say it's perpetuating the stigma that a brain-chemistry disorder inevitably leads to arson, destruction of property and public endangerment. But perhaps what they should be complaining about is how crazy it is to tout such cholesterol-laden food to a public that is collectively headed for a heart attack.

In the commercial, the mascot of the fast-food franchise (the creepy, larger-than-life "King") smashes into an office and creates havoc, breaking a window with a chair and setting a fire as he runs through the halls. Chasing him is a white-haired man in a bow tie and glasses that one can assume is some kind of therapist. "Stop that king!" the man screams. "He's crazy!"

Right before two orderlies from the mental asylum tackle and restrain the King, we discover what all the hubbub is about: the King just wants to deliver a Steakhouse XT sandwich to an employee in the lunchroom.

I can understand why some people might find this ad disturbing. Not everyone who struggles with undiagnosed or barely understood conditions is an arsonist! But aside from political incorrectness, there are plenty of reasons to hate this ad. How about ... because it's ugly and obnoxious?

The cheesy Burger King ad takes us back on a spurt of acid reflux to the days of Crazy Eddie and his discount electronics warehouse ("His prices are IN-SANE!"). Both campaigns depend on the idea that consumers profit when merchants are so touched in the head that they set their prices too low. The Burger King is "insane" because he's only charging $3.99 for a Steakhouse XT.

I don't quite get the reasoning. If the guy is delusional, isn't he just as likely to set the prices too high? Or monkey with the meat in the sandwich when no one's looking?

Anyway, the real Crazy Eddie, Eddie Antar, eventually spent eight years in prison -- not for violating standards of political correctness, but for crimes more along the lines of "creative finance." One can only hope that the King -- an actor wearing a shiny, hard-plastic mask, with fussy plastic facial hair -- meets a fate just as fitting. Perhaps the burger mascot can be charged with promoting unhealthy eating habits.

According to the web site SlashFood, Steakhouse XT burgers "boast 7-ounce patties that spill over their corn-dusted buns, with a base topping of mayo, lettuce, tomato and ketchup. They're a hearty sandwich, requiring a two-hand grip."

Now I don't know whether to rustle the varmint or eat it.

Perhaps to avoid a whopper of a public-relations scandal, Burger King has since pulled the ad from national rotation (although it may continue to run in local markets). A Burger King representative issued a statement that the ad's "creative concepts" were meant "to highlight the King's unchecked enthusiasm about giving his guests a steakhouse-quality sandwich at a great price and were not intended to reflect any group or situation."

There was a different reaction from Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director for the Arlington-based National Alliance on Mental Illness. "I was stunned," he told The Washington Post. "Absolutely stunned and appalled."

Me too, but not for the same reasons.

At first, I thought the ad looked like outtakes from one of those "disgruntled former employee returns to shoot up the place" news stories. This was an immediate, visceral reaction, and quite unpleasant.

In addition, I actually think $3.99 is too much to pay for a sandwich that gives you up to 970 calories and 61 grams of fat (according to the Burger King website). That's for the version with A1 steak sauce, cheese and fried onions, but the "lite" version is still 770 calories and 46 grams of fat. If you're on a weight-loss diet, you'll have just enough calories left in the day for a glass of water.
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