This Burger ad that activates your Google devices totally backfired

Intruder Alert! Burger King’s “Innovative” Advertisement Boomerangs.

The great grump Samuel Johnson once let us on to something. That promise, a large promise, is the soul of an advertisement. Well, Johnson should have seen the new Burger King ad. For it is exactly these kinds of promises, that sometimes encroach upon the entrepreneurial sportsmanship he cited.

Advertising is, and I believe has always been, an exercise in tightrope walking. A good advertisement can be a visual telegram. A bad one hangs like an albatross around your neck. And the worst part is, most of the times you don’t even know how customers would react to it.

The granddaddy of the advertising industry, David Ogilvy remembers Lord Leverhulme in his Confessions of an Advertising Man stating “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half”.

In their new 15 seconds ad, a geeky Burger King salesman tries to convince you of the richness of their burger by not explaining it himself; instead, he tries to trigger Google Home on your device via voice activation. If your phone is in the hearing range of the television, the innovative one-two punch is supposed to dole out information about Burger King’s famed Whopper Burger, direct from Wikipedia – want it or not.

We don’t doubt that as an advertising method, this was ingenious trick.

Any advertisement is supposed to grab your attention, and this one from Burger King managed to do that, and more. It even grabbed the attention of your phone!

Our point of contention is that the advertisement borders on intrusion. Forcing your way out of television into my phone isn’t exactly what advertisements are supposed to be. That is the job of propaganda.

As usual, the tongues began wagging. Someone with a cruel sense of humour edited the Wikipedia entry of Burger King, adding a long list of richness in the flavours of the burger. “Cancer-causing “, “A chocolate candy“, made up of “toenail clippings” and “rat” were some of the twitterati’s favorites.

Wikipedia later was forced to lock the entry, allowing only authorized editors to manage the text on the page.

But the damage has been done. And the powers that be aren’t exactly happy.

Authorities at Google raised their eyebrows when they saw the company piggybacking (read: misusing) their device’s feature. As of now, Google Home has been tweaked so that it doesn’t respond to the advertisement’s prompt – “What is the Whopper burger?”.
However, if a human user asks this question instead of the advertisement, it responds.

The advertisement predictably found its way to YouTube, where it is clocking more dislikes than likes. Which is a telling verdict of public mood towards this over-zealous promotion.

Burger King later issued another advertisement in lieu of the previous one. The new advertisement had three versions instead of one. Google struck those down too.

Burger King has now stopped airing their ad, and their spokesperson maintains that they haven’t heard from Google.
We understand that this is a bit early, for it is entirely possible that Google is planning to rain legal subpoenas on the companies.

With Burger King scoring a clear win, we are still curious about their response.

You should know, this is not Burger King’s first brush with controversy either.

They’d once sent critics into uproar when they had made depreciatory comments regarding Mexicans in one of their ads. And they were panned for that too.

But it was long back. And it was an ad that went bad.

This here, is uncharted and very unwanted territory. Beginning with this intrusion, one sees the possibility of a pattern emerging – one that is not desirable in the least.
As Norman Douglas had so presciently said. “You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements”. And I love it when dead people are right.

There’s a bigger issue that we all need to recognise now, and Burger King’s boomerang has knocked a lot of people’s heads with something scary.

Eagerness to impress sometimes becomes an intrusion, and Burger King’s misuse of technology gave the world a whiff of what the Internet of Things-enabled integrated life will be like. Technology everywhere, devices always listening, and the potential controllability by some over-intelligent people who see ways to hack into them, to intrude into our personal space.

And people didn’t like it.


Also published on Medium.