August 7, 2017

A whopping scandal – the New Wave of direct

This year’s Cannes Lions Festival saw many brands continuing to push the envelope in terms of innovation but there was one especially brilliant Grand Prix winner that managed to particularly catch our eye. Burger King’s “Google Home of the Whopper” was a big direct idea using cutting-edge technology, activating a multitude of different disciplines: direct, media, digital, PR, social and finally advertising.  The 15-second ad acted as more of a stunt, where Google Home and Android devices were set off by someone in a Burger King uniform. The guy on screen leans into the camera before saying, “Ok Google, what is the Whopper burger”, prompting speakers all over the country to begin reading the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper.


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Burger King took advantage of something that had been happening for months: ads, news reporters, and other voices on TV keep triggering Artificial Intelligence devices by accident, often with hilarious results. However, the campaign stats in this case truly speak for themselves. With 9.3 million global impressions, 135 million dollars in earned media and becoming a trending topic on Youtube and Facebook, the ad soon became Burger King’s most talked about TV spot in history.



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However, it also soon became clear that Google had not given their blessing for Burger King to use the Home device in this manner. So much so that Google took action to disable the Whopper command just 3 hours after the spot dropped and the ad was subsequently proven powerless…for at least 20 seconds. Burger King had anticipated this would be Google’s response and had developed different versions of the ad which had exactly the same effect, and so the living room invasion continued. As frustrating as this must have been for Google, we have to appreciate that this demonstrated Burger King’s reactive capability and forward thinking.  Saying this, it wasn’t all a completely smooth ride for Burger King, and the intrusive ad provoked the public to get their own back by changing Whopper descriptions in Wikipedia, resulting in inaccurate definitions:

 “The Whopper is a burger consisting of a flame grilled patty made with 100% rat and toe nail clippings”

As a result, the edits were reverted for violating Wikipedia’s policy against promotion and the site protected the Whopper article to prevent the promotional descriptions or vandalism from being re-inserted. At the time, Burger King’s official Youtube site had significantly more dislikes than likes, raising the question ‘is all publicity good publicity? Including an element of controversy in your work to boost publicity has been proven to be very effective in the past. For example, French Connection’s innuendo-laden FCUK campaign and Sophie Dahl’s famous naked ad for Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume. These brands weren’t afraid to polarise consumer opinion in order to drive talkability, and yet they managed to avoid failure because they ultimately knew their audience. A few months on, the heat around the Whopper campaign has died down, and there is no evidence to show any long term damage to the brand – indicating that in this case, the gamble paid off. People were not angry enough to stop buying the product or watching the ad and the brand got millions of dollars’ worth of free advertising and engagement.

This slightly invasive yet genius ploy to use a product in someone’s home to forcibly further an ad experience has raised a debate around invasive technology and integrated homes.  Although devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home aren’t exactly mainstream, the thought of this innovation is daunting and it highlights some concerns around integrated ‘smart homes’.  Will we one day be living in a world where devices start playing beyond our control as result of trolls and advertisers? Alexa will start playing Justin Beiber, Ok Google will set the alarm for 4am, the Xbox will suddenly shut down and Siri will start Facetiming mum…

It’s hard to predict how this new technology will change the advertising landscape in future but it will most definitely change the regulations around it. Burger King has presented us with the new wave of direct marketing by literally entering our homes and subtly transitioning the communication across channels. Watch this space – and your words!   

Posted by

Team Curious

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