Hot Mess and The Insidious Power of New Burger Mania

Raised to be aggressively skeptical of consumerism in general and advertising in particular, I have, throughout my adult years, embraced this foundational credo and built upon it, dutifully changing channels during commercial breaks and flipping right past magazine ads. More recently, I diligently disable any and all online pop-ups. I watch on TV virtually nothing that hasn’t been DVR’d. When I am obliged to confront an ad, I delight in letting loose upon it all my powers of sarcasm and mockery. I am indeed hard pressed to think of a single instance where I was moved to purchase anything on the basis of its formal advertisement.

Anything, that is, except special edition burgers mongered by fast food giants.

In fact, much as I’m loath to admit it, I am perfectly helpless in the face of fast food burger innovators and their army of propagandists.

I recognize this is for the major character flaw it is and perhaps by writing about this phenomenon, this innermost shame, I hope to overcome it.

Until that time, I am putty in the hands of Burger King each and every time they trot out a special edition Whopper. The King and his competitors are a sophisticated bunch. It’s not merely the power of their advertising. I know they spend years in special labs researching and building into their products the neuroscientific triggers designed to elicit in unsuspecting consumers, like me, the desired Pavlovian response. When it comes to new burgers, I am essentially their Munchurian Candidate.

Ads for existing burger products don’t have the same effect. You could pimp Big Macs to me all day long and I wouldn’t be moved. I know from Big Macs, and I’m over them.

However, when the burger establishment pitches me a new beefy confection, I MUST TRY IT.

Intimates of mine may well read this and say, “Well, Hal is famously enthusiastic about all things edible.” And this is true. The same parents who so well prepped me to resist consumerism also imparted to me, by nature and nurture, an overdeveloped appreciation of worthy foodstuffs. But while I’m saddled with an unhealthy love of pizza, for example, I don’t see an ad for some new Domino’s product and rush out to buy it. I don’t notice a fancy new offering at my local pizza purveyor of choice and feel any immediate urge to sample it. Introduction of a new chicken-based sandwich leaves me essentially unmoved.

The burger situation, however, is anomalous and insidious. Something about beef flesh reaches my involuntary subconscious on a primal, somewhat frightening level.

Today I ran across the above ad for something Jack in the Box is calling the Hot Mess. Am I the only one intrigued by the mere name of this thing? We don’t even have Jack in the Box in Maine, or anywhere in New England, so far as I know. Still, I am plotting my next trip to the West Coast where I can cram a Hot Mess down my pie-hole forthwith.

Methinks it’s the special edition aspect that truly breaks down my fragile defenses. Homer Simpson famously fell victim to the charms of the Ribwich, a McRib-like concoction whose periodic availability (“for a limited time only!”) he meets with characteristically unbridled glee (indeed, Homer ultimately follows the Ribwich around the country, from city to city, like a Grateful Dead fan).

Thankfully, I don’t have the need to eat these things over and over, but I must try them. When Dairy Queen unleashed its Flamethrower burger — hot sauce, jalapenos, pepper jack and bacon — I naturally went out and sampled one straightaway. Okay, several.

I get over them in due course, but it’s the initial curiosity that gets to me. f they’re equipped with bacon and/or jalapenos? Well, it’s Katy bar the door.

I’m a Burger King guy, because I like underdogs (and their fries have always been superior), but mainly because their menus have routinely featured more bacon-bedecked items than McDonalds’, or any other competitor. Naturally, it didn’t take me long to sample their new “Angry” Whopper, so called because of the jalapenos (complemented by bacon and onion rings — formidable).

Wendy’s Baconator combined the time-honored lure of cured meats with another clever name. Of course I’m gonna try that. (If they ever figure out a way to work a fried egg in there, I’ll be among the first in line).

It’s not all about curiosity. The value proposition is another trigger. Much has been written about the obesity of underprivileged Americans due to the remarkable affordability of fast food. A clear connection there, in my view. For the pure delivery of calories (worthless calories, but calories nonetheless), $7 goes a very long way. Yes, I’ve had a Whopper and I don’t need to try another — but if you’re offering me one for a dollar? I’m likely to be persuaded by that, even if I’m not hungry. Two Egg McMuffins for $3? Only a fool would pass that up.

I’m already over the recently unveiled Angry Whopper. Been there, done that. But this Hot Mess thing… It’s in my head. I’m headed to California in April, and I’m intrigued enough that I may well bypass the SoCal delights of In ‘n Out Burger and Fatburger.

The regional nature of some chains does figure prominently in this equation, so far as I’m concerned anyway. When I arrive in California, it may be that In ‘n Out or maybe Carl’s Jr. has introduced something that I simply must experience. When I first started traveling in Florida, I had an uncontrollable urge to investigate what Checkers had to offer.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., from whence my wife hails, I was, for a time, fascinated by something called Hot ‘n Now, a local chain that serves only drive-thru patrons from small, purple, A-framed establishments in mall parking lots. “Oooh…What’s that?” I cooed to her the first time we passed one.

“Ugh. They’re disgusting,” she said.

“Well, yeah. Naturally… But we’re going to need to turn around.”





One Response to “Hot Mess and The Insidious Power of New Burger Mania”

  1. Drew Rogers

    Good stuff, Hal. A fun read. And count me in as a guilty accomplice if we drive by one of these suspecting joints! Gotta give it a go!

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