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#PRFAIL: Burger King’s New “Vietnamese” Burger Ad a Recipe for Disaster

#PRFAIL: Burger King’s New “Vietnamese” Burger Ad a Recipe for Disaster

Pull up any YouTube video of the late comedians George Carlin or Bernie Mac (as two examples), and you’ll find that a host of the comments say largely the same thing: “Why can’t we go back to the good old days where people could make jokes without causing all kinds of offense?”

Whether you’re inclined to agree with these commenters or not, one thing is for certain: our world is a much more sensitive place than it was ten, five, probably even two years ago. And the eggshells seem to get more fragile by the day.

My point here being, businesses ignore this new reality at their own peril. The latest casualty of this disregard for cultural sensitivity (as one method of causing offense) is Burger King.

Burger King New Zealand posted an ad on its Instagram account promoting its new Vietnamese Sweet Chili Tendercrisp Burger which showed a group of “westerners” attempting to eat the burger with a pair of oversized red chopsticks (and failing miserably, of course). The caption said, “Take your taste buds all the way to Ho Chi Minh City.”1

Twitter users were quick to point out that depictions of chopsticks as shorthand for Asian food play off of racial stereotypes, and that adding “Sweet Chili” as an ingredient doesn’t make a dish Vietnamese in any meaningful sense of the word.2 Some people found it particularly egregious in light of the fact that Dolce & Gabbana had faced similar, widely-publicized backlash for featuring a Chinese model using chopsticks to eat Italian food in an ad in 2018.3

“It says a lot [about] what kind of demographics [Burger King] must employ across the board for their ads,” said the Twitter user who had originally pointed out the offense.4

Not everyone was put off by the ad – a few people sympathized with Burger King for what they felt was an innocent joke about westerners having difficulty with chopsticks5 – but the critical mass of outrage was enough to necessitate a corporate response.

I’m a Westerner myself, and I can be pretty abysmal at using chopsticks—plus our own American humor is to find humor in differences by poking fun… but not all parts of the world share our flippancy and insouciance (big word—means playful disregard). Part and parcel of PR campaigns is considering the mores and attitudes of other cultures—never more important then in today’s hyper-sensitive society.

Burger King later deleted the video from its Instagram account and stated: “The ad in question is insensitive and does not reflect our brand values regarding diversity and inclusion.”6

A predictable reaction, but this incident could and should have been prevented by the PR/marketing team having their ears to the ground in the first place. The double whammy, as I mentioned, was dealt by the Twitter user’s insinuation that BK’s marketing arm only attempts to sell its food to one racial demographic – more damning and damaging than a simply insensitive blunder. And especially for a company like Burger King, trying to create that brand of pseudo-international variety in what is fundamentally American food, absolute precision in terms of the advertisement’s tone and image was in order.

With that, I am going to end with a joke about “culture shock”—and I apologize if it offends anyone ahead of time:

“Two immigrants arrive in the United States and are discussing the difference between the Old Country and the U.S.

“One of them says that he’s heard that people in the U.S. eat dogs, and if they’re going to fit in, they better eat dogs as well. So they head to the nearest hot dog stand and order two ‘dogs.’

“The first guy unwraps his, looks at it, and nervously looks at his friend.
“What part did you get?
7

Bada bing!

Now, I’m hungry for a WHOPPER.

 

1) Green, Jeff, and Leslie Patton. “Burger King Apologizes After Chopsticks Ad Blunder.” Time, Time, 9 Apr. 2019, time.com/5566429/burger-king-chopsticks-ad-criticism/.

2) Schaltegger, Megan. “Burger King Is Apologizing After Airing A Commercial With Customers Using Chopsticks To Eat The New Vietnamese Burger.” Delish, Delish, 9 Apr. 2019, www.delish.com/food-news/a27087298/burger-king-chopsticks-commercial-vietnamese-burger/.

3) Bramwell, Kris, and Kerry Allen. “Burger King Remove ‘Racist’ Chopsticks Ad.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Apr. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-47866381.

4) Schaltegger, Megan. “Burger King Is Apologizing After Airing A Commercial With Customers Using Chopsticks To Eat The New Vietnamese Burger.” Delish, Delish, 9 Apr. 2019, www.delish.com/food-news/a27087298/burger-king-chopsticks-commercial-vietnamese-burger/.

5) Bramwell, Kris, and Kerry Allen. “Burger King Remove ‘Racist’ Chopsticks Ad.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Apr. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-47866381.

6) Ibid.

7) “Funny Jokes | Culture Shock Joke | Comedy Central.” Funny Jokes | Culture Shock Joke | Comedy Central, jokes.cc.com/funny-nationality/7fh9xn/culture-shock.


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