Burger King Made a Whopper of a Mistake (pun intended)
I get it. International Women’s Day was happening. Every major brand on the planet sees it as a marketing opportunity, a chance to virtue signal, but I digress. Marketing professionals, competing with all the social media noise, sometimes feel they need to push the envelope, hoping to get noticed.
Well, did Burger King’s (@BurgerKingUK) IWD tweet “Women belong in the kitchen.”, intending to get people to read their subsequent tweets, get noticed!
It was a Whopper of a mistake! (pun intended)
When a tsunami of negative comments, many being toxic and threatening, began appearing, Burger King attempted, in subsequent tweets, to defend itself. “Only 20% of chefs are women,” one read. Another, “We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees.”
Burger King’s aim was to inform the launching of their H.E.R. (Helping Equalize Restaurants) Scholarship Program, created to help female Burger King employees pursue a culinary career. Then there’s the obvious self-serving reason to leverage a cultural moment. Burger King wants you and me to know what great corporate citizens they are and how they plan to address gender inequality in the restaurant industry. The next time you buy one of their burgers, you’ll feel you’re a part of doing good.
Sensing trying to calm down a growing vilifying mob was futile, Burger King deleted the tweet, apologized, and promised to do better the next time.
What’s mind-boggling is how Burger King’s marketing team didn’t foresee that a sexist opening ploy tweet, on IWD of all days, wouldn’t result in a considerable amount of backlash. There had to be several approval touchpoints.
A quick tangent: I’d wager a guess female marketing executives are non-existent at Burger King. How else would Burger King’s tweet and a full-page ad in the New York Times be green-lighted? This is why a diverse employee population is good business acumen. Diversity brings different gender and cultural perspective eyeballs to a company’s “customer relations,” so to speak.
A word to marketing professionals and those aspiring to join such rank; include pertinent context information in your initial post. Sharing a notoriously sexist figure of speech like “Women belong in the kitchen” without immediate context was a mistake. Social media, Twitter especially, is a dangerous place to share polarizing messages hoping people will click through the thread to understand the context and intent.
Yes, since many need to be continuously outraged, there would still have been a backlash, but on a much lesser scale.
Did Burger King try to use a sentence deeply ingrained in adverse history for edgy click-baiting? Was this misstep intentional — a PR stunt? I doubt either. I believe Burger King didn’t consider:
- We live in a quick read, quick to judge world.
- Many people want everything to be about sexism, racism, etc. and will pounce on the slightest opportunity to point it out.
- Tongue-in-cheek humour rarely goes over well on social media.
- In 2021 many social of our historical and social structures are being questioned and protested. There are certain issues too sensitive to play games with.
- On social media, messages aren’t effective when broken across multiple posts, tweets, comments.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Some people found what Burger King did as clever, and some people found it offensive. Undeniably it grabbed everyone’s attention and succeeded in going viral. Whether it’s good for Burger King’s brand value is another question. Still, everyone reading this, offended or not, is now aware of Burger King’s H.E.R. Scholarship Program — mission accomplished with lots of collateral damage.
Take it from me, a walkthrough of Burger King’s social media presence will leave you with two takeaways:
- You’ll find yourself drooling over the images posted on Burger King’s social media handles.
- You’ll have a good laugh from all that satirical content they post, but that could be just me.
In my opinion, Burger King’s social media strategy surpasses other brands in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry. Unfortunately, when trying to not get lost in the baggage of digital marketing noise, judgments can become clouded.
On the other hand, to quote American showman P. T. Barnum, “There isn’t any such thing as bad publicity.”