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.