Jack in the Box is blowing up its image--literally.
The fast-food chain's new TV commercial features its famous smiling clown--dressed in a business suit--detonating the company boardroom to get revenge at executives for blowing him up in a famous 1980 spot.
The commercial introduces a new campaign called "Jack's Back," in which the clown who once adorned the chain's drive-through speaker boxes shows off the restaurant's new bigger burgers and revamped outlets decked in vibrant colors and neon striping.
The campaign is designed to help the nation's fifth-largest fast-food chain recover from $140 million in losses since the deaths of four children who ate bacteria-contaminated burgers in early 1993.
But corporate identity consultants say the new ad's violent message is all wrong at a time when the news is filled with explosions and death--a suicide bomber in the Gaza Strip, a mail bomb in the suburbs of New Jersey, a fire bomber on New York's subway.
"It's incredible that you'd be running an ad campaign showing anything being blown up today," said Al Ries, a marketing consultant in Great Neck, N.Y.
Executives at parent company Foodmaker Inc. of San Diego and Venice-based Chiat-Day, the ad agency that created the spot, discussed the violent content and decided few people would take it seriously, said Brad Haley, a corporate marketing executive.
"The fact that it's done in a cartoonishly humorous fashion hopefully will make any connection with any real-world events a stretch to make," he said. Haley added that the ads will run in areas distant from recent bombing incidents.
Most of the 1,200 Jack in the Box outlets are in the western and southwestern parts of the country, while recent U.S. bombings have occurred in the East, he said.
"I understand they have to catch the attention of male teen-agers, who are going to say, 'Yeah, cool, man' and maybe not take it seriously," said Mary Fox, vice president of research for the San Francisco-based corporate image consultant Addison Seefeld & Brew. "But I just think it's inappropriate."
The TV spot is the first of at least four. It will be introduced this week in Phoenix, Sacramento and St. Louis, then expanded early next year, the company said.
It starts off with a replay of the 1980 ad, in which the famous clown was blown up to symbolize the company's movement away from meals catering just to kids and toward more adult fare.
Then comes Jack's return as the company "founder" walking down a street, sporting a natty suit, wingtips and the familiar white clown's head with big blue eyes, a gigantic smile and tiny yellow cap.
"Today, thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery, I'm back, ready to make Jack in the Box better than ever," he explains, riding up the elevator at company headquarters.
He walks up to a door marked "Boardroom," which bears a sign saying, "In use," pulls out a triggering device and--still smiling--pushes the button, setting off an explosion that blows off the door and sends papers flying.
In later ads, Jack is seen in-line skating and cruising in his convertible while describing the chain's latest fare, as the camera flashes on close-ups of burgers, fries and soft drinks.