Kmart Offends and Delights With Controversial Underwear Ad

Discount retail giant Kmart has a rather family-friendly reputation, but its latest ad campaign for the men’s underwear company Joe Boxer has many consumers outraged over its sexually explicit content.

The ad, which first aired Sunday on national television, is called “Show Your Joe.” It opens with six hunky guys, each holding a bell and standing behind a table while wearing what appears to be a tuxedo. The table is suddenly whisked away, revealing the men wearing Joe Boxer shorts, with bells attached to them. Then, they break out into a dance sequence made up of squatting and hip-shaking, while the harmony of the bells harmonize on the tune “Jingle Bells.”

On Monday, Kmart posted the ad on its Facebook page, which, as of Tuesday, had resulted in more than 1,700 shares, 1,300 likes, and 1,250 comments, many of which criticized the retailer. Commenter Tammy Hedgecock wrote, "I think this is the tackiest commercial Kmart has ever had and very distasteful." Rylee Madison Copeland added, "Kmart that was disturbing. Never shopping at your stores again." Gail Goodwin said she was "disgusted" and "disappointed in your decision to air such a filthy commercial and saddened that your wholesome image has taken a downward turn." Others, however, found the 60-second spot entertaining. Linda Askintowicz Dugre wrote, "Love the commercial. Made me laugh!" Crystal Clinton Sebring agreed: "This was hilarious and anyone that doesn't think so has no sense of humor. I will take all six please." And Florence Brown insisted you didn't have to be a young person to enjoy it: "i'm 72 - and the ad gave me a much needed belly laugh!"

"The Kmart 'Show Your Joe' commercial playfully showcases Joe Boxer's men's clothing available at Kmart," a company spokesperson said via a statement emailed to Yahoo Shine. "We regret if some people found the commercial offensive, as that was not our intent."

Kmart has a history of using shock tactics as an advertising strategy. Back in April, the brand aired a 30-second “Ship My Pants” ad, during which customers express their disbelief at having the option to ship their pants from the store to their home. One exclaims, “Ship my pants? Right here? Ship my pants? You’re kidding.” His wife joins in: “Whoa. I may just ship my pants.” The sentiment is repeated multiple times throughout the spot. The following month, Kmart debuted another ad in which the company offered customers a 30-cent-per gallon discount if they spent $50 in Kmart stores. The tagline was “Big gas discount,” a phrase repeated frequently and rapidly throughout the ad. “Thirty cents a gallon, that’s a big gas discount,” says one man. “Totally solves my big gas problem,” a woman pipes up. The Joe Boxer ad goes a bit further with its overt sexuality, but did the brand go too far?

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“It’s doubtful that Kmart was trying to rile up or anger consumers,” Christopher Cakebread, an advertising professor at Boston University, tells Yahoo Shine. “It’s likelier that they’re trying to drum up new, hipper clientele and in the process, they’re alienating some of their consumers.”

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The advertisement is clearly aimed at women, the gender that, statistically, does the bulk of the household shopping, according to Cakebread. And hunky men dancing in their skivvies is one way to make underwear purchases appealing. What’s more, since underwear is not exactly the flashiest Christmas gift, the ad may be intentionally over-the-top in order to grab attention. And while the company is likely aware of the risk of offending its costumers that could be one chance it's willing to take in order to attract a new, younger audience in the process.

If that’s the case, offering an apology is illogical, according to Cakebread. “It will only help extinguish the firestorm that started the controversy. Stick with it," he says, "otherwise what was the objective of the campaign?”

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