Following in the much-buzzed about footsteps of “Whopper Freakout” (which was released around the same time last year, coincidentally) comes the latest Burger King web vid from mega-agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Welcome “Whopper Virgins.”
In it, BK’s globe-trotting burger flippers head to three places with cultures where burgers aren’t normally on the menu – the Hmong of Thailand, the part of Romania that used to be called Transylvania, and the Inuit in Greenland – and visit remote areas looking for people who’ve never eaten one before. Then they do a taste test between a Whopper and Big Mac and asked them to choose which one they preferred. That bit is simple; it’s classic advertising schtick.
After that, it gets messy. If you read marketing/ad blogs regularly you’ve no doubt already heard about “Whopper Virgins.” That’s because everyone’s been talking about it since it debuted last week. Fierce debate has ensued: people in uproar, offended beyond belief at how callous and corporate Burger King is. The vid has been covered in publications and newspapers around the world, like The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, and The Huffington Post, and caused a full-on controversy on the net. All over a hamburger.
Watch “Whopper Virgins” so you can decide what you think for yourself. Then I’ll tell you what I think:
So I think it’s pretty clear that the video is tasteful, well-done, and respectful to everyone involved. I think the most offensive complaint, and the one I’ve read the most often on the blogs, is people saying either that this vid promotes the heartless Westernization of other cultures (some comments I’ve read go so far compare it to Colonization or even Christian Missionary conversion tactics) and that we’re in some way taking advantage of the naïvte of the savage foreigners. The brand of pseudo-respect that some completely ignorant Westerners pretend to display through their condescending “offense” is degrading to these people and revolting to the rest of us. The thought that we’re somehow going to have such a dramatic impact on these people, by offering them a hamburger, is so sanctimonious it’s ludicrous.
First, I’d be interested to know how many of these offended-by-proxy commentators have actually even been to any of these three places? Second, when did we all pre-suppose that simply because these people live in villages on other continents that means they’re impoverished? Marilyn Borchardt, Development Director for Food First, called the campaign insensitive: “The ad’s not even acknowledging that there’s even hunger in any of these places.”
So I suppose there should be no food advertising anywhere in North America then, because there’s just as much, if not more, hunger and poverty here as there is in any of these countries. It’s not like they went to Darfur or something – it’s Greenland. The assumption that they’re all suffering from mass starvation simply because they live a more rural existence shows more arrogance and ethnocentricity than anyone involved in creating this ad has. You get the feeling from some of these comments that just because these people aren’t white and don’t speak English that they’re all living in shacks and digging for vegetables, innocently corrupted by the evil fast-food bearing conquerors. It’s beyond insulting.
But it gets worse: Sharon Akabas of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, told the New York Daily News “It’s outrageous…What’s next? Are we going to start taking guns out to some of these remote places and ask them which one they like better?”
Are you fucking kidding me? Romania went through a blood-filled communist revolution less than 20 years ago. They publically shot their dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, to death in the the street; you think these people have never seen a gun? The people of Thailand, nestled between Burma (a human rights-violating military dictatorship) and Cambodia (home of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and the genocide of 1.5 million innocent Cambodians), might have seen a gun or two in their time as well. I don’t say this to be flippant; I say this because to assume they’ve never seen a gun is to completely disregard the violent history of their region as well as any of the human right battles that have been won there since. I guess it’s easy to assume, since they’re not running around polishing Glocks and shooting each other, like many people in certain Western countries do, that they’ve never seen a gun. Perhaps they’ve seen so many of them that they’re smart enough to know not to use them. If this is the type of person leading thought and debate, in any way, at a university as prestigious as Columbia, then I’m worried. Guns? It’s a hamburger!
In the same article that Ms. Akabas was quoted in, the New York Daily News went to a Burger King in Times Sqaure to get some opinions on the street. That’s when Irvin Gatone, 42, from the Bronx, said: “That’s a stupid commercial, because when you’re hungry, anything tastes good.” I think maybe, just maybe, that might be the epitome of Western ignorance right there folks. They like the burger… because they’re so stupid and hungry. Well said, Irvin.
These are vibrant, healthy, well-fed cultures. They’ve been quite successful at feeding themselves for a few thousand years. To assume that our introduction of the burger will completely westernize them and make them unhealthy and fat, (essentially, turning them into us, oddly enough) is both the height of arrogance and our part and greatly underestimates the strength, beauty, and vitality of these cultures.
At the end of the day, though, to anyone who would protest so loudly, it’s just a hamburger ad. It’s an interesting idea to bring them something not typically found in their culture – a harmless burger – and interact with them and watch a human connection unfold. But that’s me looking on the bright side of it. More cynical people might say it’s just an ad, all it’s doing is trying to sell hamburgers. Well, guess what? It’s an ad for hamburgers! And it’s doing its job really well.
The thing that’s most interesting to me about it, and this is where CP+B really gets their brilliance points, is that people simply won’t stop talking about this. Not only in the world’s biggest newspapers, but in blogs and all around the net. People literally ranting on and on about how terrible it is, driving conversation, sending it to friends, rallying opinions… which is exactly what Burger King wants!
Like your Mom told you about the bullies at school, ignore them and it will go away. People who really find this that offensive should realize that by contributing to the discussion they are propagating it, and through that inevitably promoting the King. Remember that age old adage “there is no such thing as bad press, just make sure you spell my name right.” It’s totally true. Burger King doesn’t give a shit about who hates this ad. But if you do, they want you to hate it enough that you’ll talk about it, which is precisely what people are doing.
That, from a marketing standpoint, is utter fucking genius.