Burger King, We Can Do Better Than This

In the same month that Gordon Beattie stepped down from Beattie Communications following his “we don’t hire blacks, gays or catholics” LinkedIn post, Burger King have gone viral for a similar incident. Today, on International Women’s Day, the fast food chain have made headlines for the type of controversial marketing stunts they’re usually praised for, only this time: I don’t agree.

Why I Don’t Like It

The marketing world has truly been divided, as some hail Burger King’s tweet as epic and clever, whilst others see it as tone deaf and cheap. I have to say I side with the latter; I’m not generally outspoken on many issues but I do think that when it comes to marketing, we can do so much better than this.

I understand the idea and sentiment behind the tweet, but the message was so poorly conveyed that the two tweets that follow the first offender, may as well not be there. I think Burger King knew that tweeting a statement as tendentious as “women belong in the kitchen” would ruffle a few feathers, and I think that’s why they did it. Sadly this time, the brand has chosen virality over reputation, and that’s something I just can’t agree with.

And to the people saying it’s clever marketing as it draws attention to a point, I guess I just don’t agree with that. If your story is good enough, you shouldn’t need to use clickbait to get attention.

The premise of PR often gets lost in the face of modern-day communications. Many tend to favour engagement and media coverage over genuine reputation building exercises. As more sectors try their hand at PR instead of outsouring it to professionals, the foundations become more damaged. To me, PR is not about sales. It’s not about likes or RTs (though that certainly helps when it’s for the right reasons). It’s not even always about media coverage. PR is about building and retaining a strong reputation. That reputation doesn’t always have to be a ‘do-gooder’ one either. For example, McDonalds have an age-old, very strong brand of providing quick, easy and (subjectively) tasty fast food. They have such a big share of the industry thanks to this. This is one of the main reasons that Burger King often finds itself pulling all sorts of quirky marketing stunts out of the bag. It has to step up to compete. Usually, I’m a big fan, but today I totally disagree. Brand reputations don’t always have to be sparkling, but you certainly don’t want to be known as the brand who told women they “belong in the kitchen” on a day that is supposed to celebrate gender equality.

I tweeted something to this effect earlier (and shortly deleted it as I’m still not the best at receiving negative feedback). Though what I wrote is no longer there, I still stand by it. In my opinion, this was a tacky and lazy shot at going viral by Burger King. I’ve seen them do better than this.

In fact, it even opens up a wider conversation. As a woman, I generally find #InternationalWomensDay a bit gimmicky. I love it for celebrating the achievements of women, but gender equality is important every day. Not just today. Further to this, I feel as though the whole thing has become quite commercialised in the past few years; a lot of brands are getting involved just because they know they can get away with it – and not because they have a genuine compassion for the cause. Looking back to Burger King, though their tweet was to promote culinary sponsorships (and I do recognise the difference), it’s been pointed out by many that their boardroom is strikingly unbalanced.

For a brand that has waved away negative feedback with arguments such as: “[we are] drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry”, you thought they’d take a better look at their internal structuring, before making such a loud statement on social media.

This raises the bigger argument about brand virtue signalling, and ‘femvertising’ for the sake of it, but that’s an topic for another day. Let’s look at what the rest of the industry thinks.

What Others Think

There are those in favour of the Burger King tweet, but most tend to agree with me. I assume that those who’ve voted that they ‘don’t like it’ are more traditional marketers who see substance over style. I liked this comment from Coby Willoughby, she said: “Just because they’ve made a scholarship for women doesn’t give them the right to play on offensive stereotypes.” I think that’s an opinion that we as women are allowed to have. Women are still not afforded the same opportunities as men, and as such using sexist jokes to generate a stir, is in bad taste.

Not every brand can get it right, all of the time. Usually I’m such a fan of Burger King’s marketing, they certainly have a big legacy to live up to. As Lee Petts rightly puts it, “past social media successes might mean their team is under constant pressure to come up with the next big funny/clever viral post… and how, under that pressure, they may not always test or risk assess their ideas thoroughly enough”.

The bottom line is that there are better ways to do marketing. We can be better than this.

Here’s some other thoughts from industry pros that replied to my poll tweet…

Jemma Lowman: “Dislike. The first tweet is now viral meaning many will tweet about just this aspect of the announcement. I also don’t like how it plays into an old stereotype, they could’ve gone down another route inline with IWD…”

Laura Smith: “I hate it! Too much focus on making the brand go viral and not enough focus on supporting and uplifting women on #IWD – they’ve just not thought about how it could actually land and also be used by people with horribly outdated views to further their own agendas. A fail!”

Coby Willoughby: “HATE IT! Just because they’ve made a scholarship for women doesn’t give them the right to play on offensive stereotypes (and on IWD of all days). There definitely is such a thing as bad PR…”

Toby Aiken: “Perfect example of the end not justifying the means. In results terms, yes it got engagement… but at what cost? While many will read the follow up tweet and understand the premise, many won’t and BK will earn a reputation for sexism and an outdated ad policy.”

Gerry Crux: “Really obvious controversialist clickbait stunt.”

Katie Thompson: “I get that they wanted to be edgy but…not today.”

Dan Barker: “It’s good that they added Golnar Khosrowshahi to the board in 2018, but there is perhaps a reason Burger King’s parent co use text rather than headshots on this page.”

Mat Ombler: “Absolutely dogshit, pardon my language.”

Verena Hallam: “It baffles me that it was approved. I know they knew it would get this reaction, and it has had the impact they intended (going viral) but the thing is… they’re usually so good at going viral anyway, they absolutely could have come up with something better and it’s a shame.”

Danny Owen: “It worked a dream for them PR wise, as your tweet proves. Anyone who thinks women truly belong in the kitchen were never gunna be persuaded otherwise by BK. They exploited the clickbait nation to perfection.”

Tedora Ema Pirciu: “I can understand why they did it, but I can’t agree. Going viral shouldn’t even be a thing in marketing. Not if it leads to this, at least. The tweet is one of the most effective examples to illustrate the fact that how you say it is equally important to what you say.”

Aisha Hakim: “If you have to explain the joke, it isn’t funny. I don’t dislike negging or a bait and switch as a tactic, but this just wasn’t very good.”

Amelia Folkes: “I get what they were doing… baiting. But we’ve worked to hard for that sentiment to stand on its own.”

Davy (Boomin): “It was poor taste (no pun intended). Although I don’t follow BK and probably wouldn’t have seen their tweet, learn about their scholarship and learn that only 20% of chefs are female. So in a way it has got a message out. Just not in great fashion.”

Geoff Jackson: “The first tweet was to grab the attention. The second tweet that many did not see contained the message. Poor execution. However, it is now viral (probably a lot more so than if they did not do this so equals more people seeing the message).”

Jason Bradwell: “Not good. Any positivity around the actual story – that BK has set up a scholarship to help women advance in their culinary careers – has been overshadowed by a poorly executed shock tweet.”

Kendra Cornell: “First, pretty sexist. Second, my cooking skills can be questionable and I don’t need reminders of the time I boiled away an entire pot of water. Third, I’m not taking “advice” of any kind from a fast-food chain.”

Danielle Jones: “Well all now know that only 20% of women are chefs+ that BK are supporting its female employees. Personally, I think people have been waiting for brands to tweet on IWD to be able to jump on them. I dunno, I’m not offended by the phrase itself so maybe this one isn’t for me.”

I welcome all opinions relating to this issue in the comments below or on Twitter, so feel free to share your thoughts. You can also read more of my thoughts, along with other PR pros – in PRWeek today.

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