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Culture, Reality

The Karma Of Bad Brands

by Brandon Edmonds / 24.10.2011

Do bad things happen to bad brands? In this case, a resounding yebo yes bejeweled with immensely satisfying schadenfreude. The Hooters in Durban ran a jaw-dropping campaign promoting a Durban July Bums party at that annual horse-race (the evidence is proudly displayed on the official Hooters Facebook page) earlier this year. It entailed giving placards to what may well have been actual homeless people with side-splitting asides like “I’d rather starve than miss this party” and “Bugger money or food Please donate a suit so I can go to this Jol”. I know right? Hilarious. Because see homeless people won’t be allowed in because they’re smelly and like homeless. And they don’t have the R650 entrance fee. And they’re homeless. See? That’s the joke. They’re not like us. They’re smelly. And they’re homeless. Get it? Give me a moment while I like compose myself after laughing so hard. Ahhh. Ha ha. Oh man. That was good. Homeless people at our party. Can you imagine?

In the comments below an image showing a black “bum” someone writes: “what happened!!!” (implying a white guy has grievously swapped races) and Hooters SA replies: “HAHAHAHA!! – way too much sun! just a clever little piece of tactical media we did here at the ad agency… don’t worry”. Someone else writes “Fingers are black from smoking cigs there”. Stop it, please! You’re killing me. I can’t breathe!


Tactical media? Try meathead humour about as funny as running kittens through a grinder. It suggests the quality of mind behind the local incarnation of Hooters. A brand fatally unaware of its surroundings. Imported and fake. A virus uploaded by Uncle Sam. A brand shrugging at the reality of chronic inequality. A brand that, given its regressive sexist commercial angle, those Hooters girls in their lycra tank tops and lurid orange hot pants look hermetically sealed in 80’s cheerleader porn-aesthetics, in the context of a country as cravenly rape-happy as ours, ought to be on its very best behaviour. Instead the appalling Bums campaign suggests a gormless, abrasively tone deaf business culture at work. A jokey entitled racism that thinks it’s being edgy by being politically incorrect without noticing that being politically incorrect is the default setting of hegemonic suburban conformism. It’s pandering to the worst in people.

The Hooters Bums campaign suggests an aggressive neoliberal disdain for the marginalised (those who “rely on handouts” and are “too lazy” to make something of themselves), an attitude familiar to anyone around competitive young white guys threatened by the new employment landscape where blackness reigns (at least in principle) and the poor are convenient ever-present punchbags. At least it helps decode Hooters’ otherwise unfathomable tagline “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined”. While using the homeless as punchlines to shill corporate events is extremely fucking tacky and unrefined, it is not even a little bit delightful. Just go with Tacky. It covers the brand better than those shorts cover your employees’ asses.


Before he was bought out by American investors this year, the guy behind the local Hooters franchise was a Durban entrepreneur called Spencer Shaw. And he is everything an ambitious young go-getter needs to be in what has been called the terminal ‘cancer stage’ of late capitalism. An ego the size of Mexico. A model girlfriend. Casual body fascism (his tweets are 98% exercise related) in which gym membership functions like confession does for Catholics. A spiritual ritual of renewal. And a tendency to talk about himself in the third person. Here he is in an online interview, asked to define Spencer Shaw: “I know he makes for good eye candy for the ladies but he is more than that. I certainly hope that his tireless ambition will at least rub off on all you young aspiring entrepreneurs out there!” Hey, here’s hoping Spence. Again it’s the tone deafness. The bro world-view. The dull conformity (hetero-normativity, lean muscle mass, commercialism) that shines through. Alpha male management makes a bad brand worse.

It’s a conformity that chimes with the Hooters gal-next-door approach. Hooters girls aren’t allowed piercings or visible tattoos. Hair colour needs to be “natural”. Personalities need to be outgoing, upbeat and agreeable. Bodies just so. Here’s the hootersgirl blog: “The Hooters girl image is one of great restriction. Slender, lithe girls with hourglass shapes, large breasts, and narrow hips are the norm. Conventionally pretty faces, large eyes and small noses are de rigueur. Any real deviation from this is unfortunately rare.”


This cleaving unto the conventional, the median, the status quo has grown Hooters into a billion dollar a year global brand. The source of “one of the fastest growing restaurant categories” – according to Entrepreneurship magazine – called ‘breastaurants’ which specialise in retail sexuality – boobs on top of regular comfort food and beer. Hostesses are contractually bound and trained to ‘touch’ the table a lot which means engaging with customers like they matter, like they’re special while fake laughing. Playing gettable geisha’s serving hot wings in lycra. There’s a whole raft of breastaurants in the States including: Burger Girl and the Honey Shack, Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke, Twin Peaks and Titled Kilts. Each with a retail template written in stone. Plasma screens relay sports imagery while risqué uniforms exaggerate the pert breasts and tight asses of fit young women. No wonder the trend is recession-proof.

More hilarity on the official Hooters SA Facebook page includes this image.

Hooters - Sexism

The caption: “Sexism – Only ugly bitches complain about it” speeds us deep into the vile heart of the brand. Again in a country where gender violence is all the rage. There it is proudly on display. Shitty image control makes bad brands worse.

Writer Nina Power has pinpointed what is so demeaning and creepy about the kind of post-feminist ‘raunch’ culture that makes breastaurants okay (Hooters admitted that over 20% of their franchises are picketed by women’s groups). Women get cut up into their constituent sexual parts on the open market. Breasts are “assets in the physical and economic senses simultaneously, and as much use as possible is to be extracted from them”.

In other words, retail work today demands you see yourself in the most saleable, demeaning and conventional way. You adopt an internal employer’s gaze and train it on yourself to compete. You turn yourself into the physical embodiment of your own CV. You are your assets. “It’s not clear that contemporary work allows anyone to have an inner life… the blurring of work, social, personal and physical life is almost total.” Forms of domination like sexism make us unfree. Something the fuckheads at Hooters SA ought to consider.

All this scene-setting lets us rejoice at a bad brand caught in the act of being bad. At the Hooters in Fourways in Joburg (depressingly regaled as the largest on the planet) in the same month the Durban July Bums Party happened, 3 black customers were given a bill printed with the term “Darkies” under the Customer Name. The manager allegedly told them it was cool and happens a lot and promised them free drinks next time! They are now suing Hooters for a million Rand. Here’s hoping they win.

Hooters Darkies

21   5
  1. mr bile says:

    These selfish, stupid white fuckwits add fuel to the fire being stoked by the ANCYL. Enjoy the party while it lasts.

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  2. mr bile says:

    SEXISM – only brainless bimbos endorse it.

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  3. Simon H says:

    Well done.

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  4. Sarah Dee says:

    Oh my god. Fuckheads! I’m flabbergasted. Thanks for the PSA, Mr Edmonds. Outrageous!

    Anyone know where to get some plastic explosive? I hope they get sued to shit by the so-called-“Darkies”. Jesus.

    Really well done on this piece though. Your humour’s tone is so appropriately condescending.

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  5. Pascal says:

    Awesome writing. Really enjoyed the comment.

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  6. Sarah Dee says:

    Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god.

    They support paedophilia too it seems. I clipped this screenshot from one of their active group members’ FB walls:


    Comments include ” coz u dont have capcity for big dicks…”, and “I wish tht i wnt to be tht baby”. Holy shit. What the fuck is going on the world?

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  7. Luke says:

    for every shit brand there’s a shit design agency doing shit work for them. here’s hooters: http://sugartheagency.co.za/temp/

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  8. Loudine says:

    Great article. Thanks for casting a spotlight. Hope Fourways is forced to close down. Will be one down, several dozen to go.

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  9. Paula says:

    Fantastically written piece – thanks. Love the “virus uploaded by Uncle Sam” comment – that’s exactly what these mindless, soul-less, franchised emporiums of bad taste are. What bothers me is that we embrace the virus so wholeheartedly. Fuck american mass produced consumer culture – let’s strive to be original. And mindful.

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  10. Jsaret says:

    Well they were definitely darkies if they ordered Black Labels.

    Just kidding, excellent article. Agree completely about the 80’s tackiness and flaunting of the female form. Pure degradation – and that’s not to mention the homeless people

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  11. ? says:

    The waitress who labeled her clients as ‘darkies’ is black herself from what I’ve read elsewhere…. perhaps that should be mentioned

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  12. Mugabe says:

    Great article. Nicely done dude.

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  13. Don Dada says:

    primitive cunts with less brain capacity than reptiles. Fuck you and your flat chested ho’s.

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  14. XO says:

    what a mess

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  15. ross says:

    If you actually bothered to look deeper than one biased news report and this blog post you would actually know that it was a black waitress who called a table of black customers darkies and yes her name is Charmaine. How is this the restaurants fault? The waitress has been suspended and the case is being thrown out of court – obviously. This is another example of the press sensationalising something that just wasn’t that bad.

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  16. ross says:

    Read the press release here.


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  17. Luke says:


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  18. Sarah Dee says:

    In my opinion, of course black people can be racist to black people. If you use discourses of discrimination, even if they originate with the “oppressor”, you are perpetuating and permitting their use in society.

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  19. Sarah Dee says:

    @ Ross

    The article speaks about “bad things happening to bad brands”. About karma. About the fact that if a brand fosters shitness, its gonna come round and bite it in the ass, even if they’re not directly culpable. And that its utterly deserved.

    You hire dumbass waitresses, on the very basis of their being dumbasses (or just asses full stop) they’re gonna do dumbass things that fuck with your brand and cost you big money.

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  20. Andy says:

    Ross you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin much? Nice American book that. The fact that the employee could define her table as “Darkies” goes a long way to illustrate the mental environment and levels of integration at your average Hooters

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  21. sam says:

    So the thing that’s bothering me here is that I can find no evidence of that Sexism photo on the Hooters SA FB page, though it’s right there on the US Hooters page. When I went to the SA page I found that the campaign referred to as being held ‘earlier this year’ was in fact from 2010, and no reference was made to the previous almost identical campaign for the Bikini contest. Not that I don’t agree with a number of the points made, but this article feels like a big soapbox that hasn’t been very well researched. I also think the assumption that women who work at Hooters and/or have small bodies, large breasts and wear teeny shorts are ‘dumbasses’ is a flip side of the same sexist coin.

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  22. Luke says:


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  23. Luke says:

    oh and i don’t give a fuck if some chick with big tits and a colgate smile realised she can make money off fools by serving them horrid overpriced food and drinks. more power to them. it’s the fact that hooters and it’s ad agency look at humans as commodities and marketing options to empower and richen their already rich white male selves that has and always will irk me. bastardised culture is always run by bastards.

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  24. Sarah Dee says:

    Possibly a fair point @Sam, regarding flip sides of sexism coins. I think my point there has to do with what’s being fostered, not what essentially is. And the dumbassery is sure as hell being fostered, even idealised.

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  25. Snotter says:

    Ai Brandon you make some good points and then go off the road into white bashing. Is hooters really representative of white middle class culture for you? Or is it just a sub section of society, that probably isn’t just white, and is really just about crass consumerism, the death of anything like human values. Why make this crime of the white middle class? So you make some good points and then come across as having a chip on the shoulder. Also passing the way the female body is turned into a commodity into a uniquely capitalism sin is just stupid – lots of pre-capitalist societies treated the female body as property of the male owner. In fact.. I think it is also in capitalist societies that women’s potential freedom has reached a zenith. Nobody is forcing those women to work there. Looks to me like Hooters has created an opportunity for stupid superficial people to go get served plastic food by other stupid superficial people. Whatever.

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  26. Syngyn Smythe says:

    I think we should #askhelenzille what she thinks.

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  27. R. says:

    Are those hooters girls wearing stockings? If you’re going to be controversially raunchy, at least get it right!

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  28. Zam says:

    I think the ad campaign is a good idea badly, BADLY orchestrated.

    It’s probably cheaper to hire people than to hire billboards, they interact with humans making tue brand more a conscious view and it creates unemployment (full time or partial) for people who need the flow of income.

    I’m not saying the campaign was at all a good idea, I’m saying if I owned an ad agency I’d look at employing impoverished people to advertise on the street.

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  29. Zam says:

    *creates employment, diminishes unemployment.

    Ps, did anyone else see the “power play cards” on their fb? It’s the same concept as those racing car cards you get where you try beat the other player by having more speed points or turning points, but this one is for woman! You get more points the bigger her breasts are, the bluer her eyes and the blonder her hair.

    Empowering. :0(

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  30. Mick says:

    Yeah, great pitch – the brand is KAK and deserves assault. Problem is that Edmond’s crass laziness demeans the apparent intent of the piece. All Wah-Wah pedals and easy honks.

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  31. brandon says:

    Now where did I put…oh there it is: fuck you Mick.

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  32. Kim says:

    Cool article. I would love to know if Hooters will respond to this article. If they do pls do a follow up with it.

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  33. fact off says:

    Don’t call Edmonds lazy, it makes him very angry.

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  34. Mick says:

    The fury of recognition.

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  35. Steve-O says:

    “Hooters girls in their lycra tank tops and lurid orange hot pants…..in the context of a country as cravenly rape-happy as ours, ought to be on its very best behaviour”

    The way a woman dresses has fuck all to do with rape. It’s “blame the victim” mentality. Their dress code may be sexist but our nation is not “rape-happy” because our women have freedom of choice when it comes to dressing.

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  36. Andysor says:

    I went to several Hooters restaurants when I did a tour of the US recently with a friend. It was a sort of ironic immersion into trashy American culture.

    The advertising campaigns you mention are obviously despicable, as is any non tongue-in-cheek sexism (though let’s not all get on our high horses and lose our collective sense of humour).

    However, I don’t see the concept of Hooters any different from that of men’s magazines (FHM, Playboy etc.) mixed in with a bit of healthy flirtation. And the food is a hell of a lot better than Spur and most pub food available in SA (it most certainly isn’t “plastic’).

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  37. ngwenya says:

    @ Snotter: Darling, if you think that women’s freedom has ‘reached a potential zenith’, then I shudder. Is this the best we can do? Under capitalism, the wage gap remains an average of 17% around the world (it’s worse in SA) and I just can’t call to mind any country in the whole capitalist caboodle where there are 50% women in parly and 50% women in executive positions and 50% men washing dishes, shopping for food and cleaning-shit and changing nappies.

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  38. raimondo says:

    What is it with us men, on a constant quest to regress, return to the cave; some self respect might help us to be happy!

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  39. Mike Scott says:

    Time for a joke. A girl broke up with a guy. She said “I’m leaving you man.” He said “But we’ve been together for 2 long years.” She says “I don’t care. You’re a pedophile!” He says “Yoh. That’s a big word for a 6 year old.”

    But seriously, folks.

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  40. nnnnn says:

    Hahahahahahaa all lies..
    Grow up.
    I usto be a hooters gal in ct and promise u its not that bad.

    I think the problem here is the person who wrote this is either jelouse coz she can’t be a hooters girl or if it is a he the hooters girls turned him down and didn’t give him what he wants..

    And the darkie issue..
    Its not hooters fault its the damn waiter and by the way she is black so what’s the damn ussue don’t see any racisme or am I confused?? Can u be raced towards your own??
    Hahahahahaha pethetic u are writing this..
    And if u can’t laugh about something that attracts ppl and advertise something then damn u def needd a new life. U prob the most sour person on the face of this planet..

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  41. brandon says:

    gosh your withering retort has won the day…i will seek another profession forthwith!

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  42. Milan says:

    No offense, but you give hooters’ girls a bad name. Clearly your only assets are “yo asssssets girl” because damn i’ve seen 8year olds write more intelligently. Try mavericks next? 😀

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  43. Anreal Perception says:

    “Tactical media? Try meathead humour about as funny as running kittens through a grinder.”

    Ahaha. Really. Great writing.

    Pity about all the idiots commenting on the piece though … as if they are untainted paragons of political and sexual virtue.

    Otherwise, thanks for pointing out the obvious nevertheless. Nice to know someone’s watching. 🙂

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  44. lololololo says:

    Superlol at the ex-Hooters’ waitress.

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