Between Taco Bell's "Fourthmeal" advertisements and Jack in the Box commercials featuring slow-talking stoners, it's hardly a secret anymore that fast-food companies are shamelessly targeting potheads with their ads. But have they crossed a line?
Once considered a taboo marketing approach, the fast-food industry today appears to have brazenly embraced the late-night munchies, according to The Fix. Although advertisements never blatantly refer to pot smoking, subliminal messaging has become more obvious.
Take, for instance, this recent Jack in the Box advertisement. And Taco Bell has created a jingle to go with its latest string of advertisements, which sings of the "late-night munchies." Of course, drive-thru windows open well into the morning hours also cater to the average midnight snacker, but there's little denying who the real target is given the choice of terminology.
"If you're targeting that heavy fast-food user, you need to speak their language," said Denise Yohn, a brand consultant who's worked with restaurants for 25 years, to The Fix. "One way to do that is to talk about partying and munchies. To the mainstream audience it may just sound like late nights and drinking, but to a certain audience they're talking about getting stoned."
It's not the same thing as flagrantly endorsing the use of marijuana, of course. But the fast-food industry no longer appears to think the pothead subculture is off limits either. Perhaps they're just embracing a market force, but the strategy also runs perilously close to catering directly to a drug-induced appetite that drives people to consume their product.
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that the fast-food industry was accused of catering to addiction. Not only has fast food been proven to be highly addictive, but the industry actually hires scientists to design its food for exactly that purpose.
Whether marketing to stoners crosses an ethical line or not, it certainly seems to be working. Taco Bell has seen its sales spike by 6 percent since launching its "late-night munchies" advertisements. The marketing has been so successful that at least one new upstart fast-food enterprise has decided to sell its line of frozen burritos directly to potheads. Drive-thrus of nearly every major fast-food chain now typically stay open past midnight, undoubtedly due to a steady profit margin.
So long as it works, it's not likely to change. In fact, without any backlash, it may not be long before advertisers compete explicitly for the stoner demographic.
"A lot of companies are skipping the innuendo," said Yohn. "They think it's more effective to be overt. It creates more buzz. I think that's why you see a lot of advertising that seems unapologetically targeted to pot smokers."