For years, Legal Sea Foods restaurant chain has taken a tongue in cheek approach to advertising, poking fun at the political arena, politicians themselves, and their flip-flopping platforms and positions. Just for the halibut.
Five years ago, the Boston-based restaurant chain began running a series of ads that poked fun at animal rights activists, including: “Save the trout. Save it to swim another day through golden brooks and sunlit streams. Or just save it so we can grill that baby up real nice.”
This year the ads have been promoting the presidential “campaign” of the company’s CEO, Roger Berkowitz, whose slogan is a play off Bernie Sanders’ catchy phrase-- “Feel the Berk.”
Among the campaign’s posters: “If we build a wall on the border … Who will eat our delicious fish tacos?” … “I support the gay community. That’s why we serve rainbow trout.” … “My first act in office will be to legalize sea weed.”
(Legal Sea Foods)
Ahead of the Republican National Convention, Legal released a video that made a not-too-subtle reference to Donald Trump’s reportedly small hands: “I can assure you,” the commercial said, “it’s not the size of your hands that’s important, but rather the size of your shrimp.”
But the campaign’s latest print ad, a full-pager that ran in the Boston Globe on Monday, has gone down like a bad oyster among many online.
“We have a term for cold fish,” reads the ad, underneath a supersized picture of the Democratic Presidential Nominee. “Sushi.”
The backlash on Twitter was swift and divisive, with many accusing the chain—and its leader—of sexism:
— James O'Toole (@jameswotoole) July 25, 2016
And while we're at it, shame on the Boston papers! A sexist ad about "cold fish" right under a story about Hillary? Tasteless.
— Stephanie Keep (@keeps3) July 25, 2016
Such a dumb ad. I really like Legal, too! But you know what we don't need with our chowder? Casual, hacky sexism. https://t.co/zdV9crlumf
— Ben Platt (@NotThatBenPlatt) July 26, 2016
Yes, Berkowitz says, he called Hillary Clinton a cold fish. But the CEO doesn’t see why people are so upset.
“I’m a little bit surprised by the vehemence of all the knee jerk reactions to it,” Berkowitz told FoxNews.com. “I think a few people got it into their heads that it’s misogynist or sexist. But we’re just having fun with the gender-neutral term ‘cold fish’ which is applied equally to men and women.”
A “cold fish” can be someone—man or woman—“who shows no emotion and comes across as unfriendly or disinterested.”
Says Berkowitz, “In looking at Hillary, one of the traits she’s exhibited in the past is that she’s not the warmest of people. That’s why she picked Kaine! We’re not the first people to say it and I doubt we’ll be the last.”
But the Legal leader, who describes himself as a “dyed in the wool” Independent-- says no offense was meant—to either candidate.
“There was absolutely no mal intent in this campaign. We simply wanted to parody what has become a heated election year,” Berkowitz says. He thinks some of the online vitriol is misplaced anger from fed-up democrats.
Though neither campaign has reached out to Legal Sea Food after the controversial ads appeared, Berkowitz says he hasn’t seen a drop in business. Though the chain, and its long-standing New York-based ad agency Devito/Verdi, says they will think carefully about proceeding with the mock presidential campaign over the next month, Legal probably won’t stop trying to spark a little politically-charged fun.
“Our ads are always a little bit provocative. Good ads shouldn’t blend in, the should stand out,” he says.
Plus, says Berkowitz, #FeeltheBerk may have hit a nerve but “it does allow for some discourse on what is politically correct in this day and age and shows how people can take something and twist it completely out of context when things get heated.”