Monday, July 8, 2013

Red Robin Ad Mocks Vegetarians and Teenager Girls

This ad from Red Robin has offended a lot of vegetarians, including me. I actually like the Red Robin veggie burger, but why would I go to a restaurant that looks down at me? Why, as someone who raises his kids to be vegetarians, would I take them to a restaurant that looks down at them, and calls vegetarianism "a phase"? I've been a vegetarian for 13 years, so either I'm going through a very long phase, or Red Robin has come up with a terrible ad.

I get that a lot. You'll see from every other comment on YouTube and on the news sites covering this mini-scandal, that people are very quick to mock vegetarians. We're self-righteous. We're uptight. We're weak. From my experience, though, and that's a 13 year experience, I've never seen a self-righteous vegetarian trying to convert a meat-eater, but I see self-righteous meat-eaters trying to convert vegetarians almost every day. I'm not sure why my dietary choices are so offensive to so many people, Red Robin marketers included, but I know they do. Thing is, if you make a joke about me to my face, good for you. I'll just go somewhere else. The same goes for companies that makes that joke. So long, Red Robin, and I hope you enjoyed your joke.

So I was thinking of letting it go and just not eating at Red Robin again, but then I realized this was much more than simply an offensive ad. The way this ad mocks young teens is actually dangerous. So I wrote them an email. Here's the relevant part:

Teenage girls go through a long and painful period of unhealthy body-image awareness. Some teenage girls will come out on the other side with a healthier view of themselves, while others will forever be trapped by their own perception of the ideal body for women, and diet will play a part in their self-identity for the rest of their lives. For a company to treat body-image issues for teenage girls in such a flippant, mocking way is unconscionable.

Like I said, my personal offense at being mocked by an ad is important to my personal decision of where to take my family for lunch, but this is nothing compared to the damage an ad like that can do to teenage girls (and boys) who struggle with weight issues, and might feel further bullied and mocked by this ad.

I've read on Huffington Post that the ad may be removed from circulation soon, and I welcome that decision, but I also urge you to go beyond that, and apologize to anyone who may have been hurt by the ad, especially making an effort to reach teenage girls who treat their teenage years as more than "a phase" others can look down at with derision.

I got a reply the next day:

Thank you for your recent feedback regarding Red Robin’s current advertising campaign. Our Gardenburger ad, which is not among the ads in our current TV advertising schedule, was not intended to offend anyone. It was meant to let our guests know we have meatless options available. In fact, we’re proud to offer Gardenburger and Vegan Boca patties which may be substituted on any of our Gourmet Burgers, Sandwiches, Salads, Wraps or Entrees.

We do appreciate you taking the time to share your comments with us. We will be sure to share them with our marketing team.

I guess I can't expect more than that. It seems like a cut & pasted response meant to appease vegetarian customers, and it doesn't really touch the issue of teenage girls' body image, but I also understand why Red Robin wouldn't want to get into that. Personally, as a vegetarian, I feel I can reluctantly go to Red Robin again, hoping that the backlash to this ad has convinced marketers in general to not only stop mocking their customers, but to stop making fun of body issues.


  1. Great thoughts! When I first saw the ad on your post I thought it was kinda' funny, actually. After reading your words, however, I can definitely see where they missed the mark entirely! While I am certainly not a vegetarian I can totally appreciate the lifestyle you've introduced to your children. I'd be curious to see what your kid's response would be to the ad if you just showed it to them. Would they be confused or have they already been made away of our culture's disdain for healthier eating?

    Thanks for helping me see this from a fresh perspective!

  2. I think you're focused too much on the "vegetarian" part. Teens go though phases. It's fun to watch them grow and evolve. And if the phase sticks and they decide to stay a vegetarian... good for them.

    I'm going to paint a variation on the commercial to point out why I think you're over-reacting:

    "With 24 different burgers, Red Robin caters to a lot of different tastes, they even have gluten free buns in case your daughter is going through a phase."

    Red Robin does have gluten free buns that I find quite tasty. And, this whole gluten free thing is picking up as a "dietary decision", much like being a vegetarian.

    But... what about those people who have a medical condition in which gluten kills them. HOW OFFENSIVE!!!

    I'm a celiac - gluten kills me... and if they changed the message to be gluten free instead of vegetarian, it'd still be funny. Hell, maybe I'll call Red Robin up and ask them to change their commercial to that.

    See, they aren't poking fun at anything in specific. Replace "vegetarian" with "vegan" with "gluten free" with "atkins" with "keto" with whatever... that's not the point of the ad. They aren't trying to mock you. The point is, "they've got something for everyone". Why are you trying to make it personal?

    Not sure why it offended you so much... unless... you accidentally just fell into the stereotype of what you said vegetarians aren't.

  3. Well, first of all, unlike vegetarianism, the gluten-free diet might catch on more than it does, but right now it's still a fad. Doesn't mean it's not healthy, just that it hasn't been around long enough to be considered more than that, so calling a gluten-free diet a phase makes more sense to me.

    Also, people who-- Well, I'll speak for myself. I don't follow the gluten-free diet, so I have no idea what it means. Sure, my wife's grandma still tries to give me and my kids chicken, because it's not meat, but most people know what being a vegetarian means. They just choose to get upset about it.

    And I'm not going to tell you when to get upset, but... I understand if you're with friends, and they make fun of all the tasty food you can't eat, so you laugh with them, and next time you get them back about something else. But a restaurant chain? I don't demand much from a restaurant. Don't give me food poisoning and don't make fun of me. AND IF THAT MAKES ME AN UPTIGHT VEGETARIAN, THEN SO BE IT! (I'm not really yelling. As a vegetarian, I rarely have the energy to yell).

  4. Thanks. Like I said, I was going to just leave it until a comment on Facebook made me realize it's more than just an ad that should or shouldn't offend me, but about body image. My kids are a little too young to understand any of it. My 5yo has had a little accidental taste of meat, and it's like blood for a vampire... He's a bit obsessed now. At the same time, unlike other kids (and unlike me at his age), he's very conscious of the way meat ends up on table, and although he loved the meat he tasted, the idea of killing an animal is strange to him. If he ends up eating meat, I feel he's still better for at least being aware of the process.

  5. As a vegetarian myself, I thought that ad wasn't particularly original or clever in what it was saying. You certainly make a very valid point about body image. The ad could be seen as being sexist as well as insulting to vegetarians.

    I find it hard to believe that the aim of the ad was to promote awareness of the vegetarian options available. It seemed like it was more about encouraging the majority of consumers (meat eaters) to laugh at a minority (vegetarians). I don't understand why it isn't possible to cater for both groups. As someone from Scotland, I love the fact that one of the main companies that makes and exports haggis (our very meat-heavy national dish) makes a vegetarian version of it. They don't market it in a flippant or sarcastic manner and talk on their website about how it was created in response to customer demand.

  6. Excellent letter. You make some meaningful points.
    However, like you I am afraid it did not impact the company much and it was more of a form letter.
    Yet, your post will make an impact. You can feel good about that.

  7. Thing is, they probably did want an ad promoting their veggie burgers, but they probably think so little of vegetarians, that this is the best they could come up with. "We have something for you too, losers!"

  8. Ha, I don't know if it will make an impact. That's what I've been saying for years: NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE READ THIS BLOG, AMERICA!!!

  9. From the tone of the ad, it seems like they were perhaps trying to promote the fact that they have vegetarian options to people who might know vegetarians (especially parents of vegetarians) rather than vegetarians themselves.

  10. And case-in-point, I never knew you were a vegetarian until today. So it's not like you were trying to spout some self-righteous lifestyle to me.

  11. I find the body image take interesting. I didn't get that at all from watching the ad. When I've encountered a teen who has gone vegetarian, their reasons given are usually related to not wanting to harm animals, as opposed to trying to obtain a weight objective. Sometimes it's a phase, and sometimes it's a permanent change, but weight loss not the explanation I've typically heard. Is that why you chose a vegetarian diet?

  12. I'm mostly just waiting patiently for an Airplane-like scenario, where the only one who can save the plane is the one who didn't eat the bacon.

  13. My wife was actually vegetarian (for not-eating-animals reason) when we met, and I wasn't. But after I moved with her to Brooklyn, we ate out a lot, and we always shared food, so I became a vegetarian just because I shared her meals. Then I thought that if I didn't eat meat anyway, I might as well make it official. Soon after that, my wife had to start eating meat for health reasons, and I got stuck with the tofu...

    I can't imagine eating meat now, though. It's been 13 years, and I feel like it's now a part of who I am. I think that's what most vegetarians are upset about here--it's not about making fun of our diet choices, but about making fun of our identities.

  14. Well, Let's just be so sensitive that we pick everything apart. If you like you can find something wrong with any commercial. If you are a vegetarian, and you take offense to a commercial like this, then maybe you are not very happy or secure about your choice. And that "phase" is something that a lot of girls go through when they are wanting to lose weight, and their self image is at stake. if we take the time to talk with our girls, maybe we can help them feel better about themselves. And just to let people know.....A vegetarian diet is not the healthiest diet for your, and definitely not the tastiest, but to each his/her own. The secret to eating healthy is "MODERATION".

  15. I'm sure you made it very clear as to the process of which meat is made available to us. And you made it very clear you raised your children in a vegetarian way. I wonder how your other children are going to make your 5 year old feel about having eaten meat, and liking/wanting to eat more. I'm sure there will be consequences, or he will be treated different because of it. Most kids are aware on some level that the meat they eat is killed and processed before they get it. Maybe not at 5 years old, but they know where it comes from. But I'm sure it makes a big difference on how the info is presented to them that really makes a difference. Just as I'm sure if you presented the birth of a child to young girls in such a way that was very negative, most girls would not want to have children when they grew up.



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