Pizza Patrón’s next limited-time offer, “La Chingona,” starts Monday, but news of its controversial name already has led some franchisees to opt against selling it, and some Spanish-language broadcasters will not run ads for the product. The Dallas-based brand has managed through a public relations storm before, as it did with its “Pizza por Pesos” promotion in 2007 and its “Pizza por Favor” offer in 2012.

Yet Pizza Patrón is hardly alone among restaurants that faced an uproar over advertisements. Whether or not they expected or sought the outsize attention, here are five recent marketing campaigns that courted controversy.

Pizza Patrón’s “La Chingona”



Campaign ran: March 2014

Why the fuss: Pizza Patrón’s large pizza topped with a jalapeño-infused pepperoni was so spicy during the menu R&D phase that the chain’s marketing team, many of whom share the Mexican-American background of Pizza Patrón’s core customer, responded that it was “chingón,” a word with very positive connotations among Mexicans but often misunderstood to mean something crass among other Hispanic groups or non-Spanish speakers. In response, some franchisees and Spanish-language broadcasters have opted out of the promotion entirely. Yet Pizza Patrón has poked fun at “being censored for speaking Mexican,” changing the name of the product in marketing materials to “La Ch!#gona,” and nonetheless has very high expectations for sales of the pizza.

Taco Bell's "Afternoon Delight"

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Campaign ran: March 2014

Why the fuss: Taco Bell’s commercials for its ongoing “Happier Hour” promotion of $1 beverages and Loaded Grillers feature “Afternoon Delight,” the 1976 classic by Starland Vocal Band. The commercial likely raised a few eyebrows, as the actors and actresses in the spot — including a couple of senior citizens playing bingo — trade come-hither looks supposedly leading to a mid-day tryst. In the end, they all end up at Taco Bell for Happier Hour. The campaign will reportedly air through this summer.

Carl's Jr.'s "Great Buns"

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Campaign ran: November 2013

Why the fuss: Carl’s Jr., the quick-service pioneer in double-entendre advertising, has taken the bulk of criticism for racy advertisements ever since its 2005 commercial featuring a bikini-clad Paris Hilton. That controversy has dissipated somewhat, probably because consumers have come to expect ads like recent spots with Kate Upton, Kim Kardashian and other famous females. Last year’s “Great Buns” ad kept up the theme of marketing indulgent burgers to Carl’s Jr.’s core demographic of “young, hungry guys,” who in the commercial are seen complementing the buns of female customers — the fresh-baked buns of their burgers, not their derrieres.

Legal Sea Foods' "Save the Crab"

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Campaign ran: September 2011

Why the fuss: Legal Sea Foods garnered attention a few years ago for a campaign of 15-second TV commercials that resembled a public-service announcement to preserve species of fish and crustaceans like the crab, salmon or trout. But the Boston-based chain’s ulterior motives were revealed when, for example, it asked viewers to save the crab “so we can chop it up into tasty little crab cakes.” Environmentalists at Greenpeace Oceans and the Natural Resources Defense Council, however, did not find the commercials very funny.

Joe's Crab Shack's "Top Off"

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Campaign ran: February 2009

Why the fuss: Casual-dining chain Joe’s Crab Shack found itself in hot water briefly with commercials for its Beantown Bake Steampot entrée. The double entendre in the commercial occurs when two male companions tell their female friend to “take her top off,” meaning the lid to her Steampot dish, not her blouse. The commercial debuted one month after another controversial spot for Joe’s Crab Shack, also created by former agency Slingshot Advertising, which bleeped out parents and children swearing at the table.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN