BK's Latest Efforts to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Burger King has benefited from the influence of edgy ad agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. Icons such as the Subservient Chicken and the King have put BK back on the radar screens of many fast food consumers. Pushing the envelope to get attention sometimes leads to getting paper cuts, as BK has found out. A recent Facebook promotion that offered users a free Whopper for "de-friending" 10 people was stopped because of concerns it violated Facebook's privacy policies.

Now, BK has caught flack for two ads. One is a print ad running in Europe for a new "Texican Whopper" that features a short, squatty Mexican draped in the Mexican flag standing next to a tall American cowboy. The Mexican government has objected to the use of its flag in the ad. BK has agreed to stop running it.

A second ad is a TV commercial targets children. BK is promoting kids' meals through an association with Spongebob Squarepants. The link with Spongebob is not objectionable (after all, who could find fault with someone with a work ethic like his?). The issue is the execution of the message. The King character is doing a re-mix of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." The use of this song and the images of dancing girls with big square butts has drawn complaints from child advocacy groups.

Does the decision to create edgy ad messages necessitate that one accept the likelihood that an ad could be offensive to someone? The answer appears to be "yes." It seems that BK and its ad agency could have realized these ads would offend some people. Killing these ads before they bowed would have created less controversy for the brand... or is that what BK wants? Some people are offended by the ads and have complained, while some people probably like them and have shared with others. In both cases, people are talking about BK, and that could be the overarching goal.

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