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Posted by on Dec 4, 2008 in Arts & Entertainment, Health | 1 comment

Burger King’s “Burger Virgins” Ad Campaign Called Screwed Up

On the face of it, it’s a stroke of utter genius. Burger King has launched a new international advertising campaign showing its worldwide quest for “Burger Virgins” who’ve never tasted the glories of The Great American Dish that has converted (some say perverted) taste buds around the world — asking villagers and others labeled “Burger Virgins” to chomp a BK burger and then contrast it with Brand McD.

And now the teaser ads have been unveiled. But critics charge that the “Burger Virgin” campaign is screwed (this is a family site) up because it raises several other issues and shows a condescending attitude towards those being chosen to get a taste of fast food — a food some consider the measure of civilization and others consider a symptom of culinary decline.

Here’s one of the ads:

The ad campaign has a compelling website that will reveal the results of its research.

But even before it’s totally launched, the campaign has gotten lots of exposure, is getting a lot of ink — and it starting to generate so many complaints that its hard to see how the burger giant will ketchup with them all.

The reason: critics charge the corporation is seeking those who may suffer from hunger issues and shows a condescending attitude to those who are not already enmeshed in Western-originated fast food burger culinary culture. The New York Daily News apparently worked its buns off trying to get BK to comment and had no luck but it did accumulate a host of comments from critics:

“It’s outrageous,” said Sharon Akabas of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University. “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?”

“It’s insulting,” she said, adding that the money used to make the documentary would have been better spent trying to end hunger – not create it.

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,” she said.

At a Burger King in Times Square, New Yorkers had mixed opinions.

“That’s a stupid commercial, because when you’re hungry, anything tastes good,” said Irvin Gatone, 42, of the Bronx.

Jacqueline Renee, 35, of Manhattan, said it’s a good idea.

“Not everyone is as fortunate as us to be able to pull up and get a burger,” she said.

Actually, the latter has been the debate that has raged for years.

In Australia, the lively The Inquisitr is not amused:

If visiting poor people in remote locations, some who would be at best surviving on below poverty levels and throwing a burger in their faces isn’t bad enough, it gets better, because they also ask the Whopper Virgins to compare the taste of the Whopper to a McDonalds Big Mac as well.

It’s hard to place exactly where this begins on the level of wrongness. The pipe flute South American music on the website, the pictures of people with horse and carts on one side, and on the other someone eating a Whopper. Hey, but that’s ok, because the testing was “done by independent 3rd party testers.” I think I’m going to throw up now.

If you can’t handle the pain of viewing the website, here’s some promotional images for the “documentary.”

Read the post in full for some more details on the ad campaign.

And the debate rages about the bigger issues:

The campaign has also stirred up a welter of online commentary. Brian Morrissey, writing on, likens the campaign to colonialism and declares it “embarrassing and emblematic of how ignorant Americans still seem to the rest of the world.”

The marketing consultancy blog Five Blogs Before Lunch asks:

BK is teasing a new campaign with a short mocumentary featuring people in remote areas of the world taste-testing Whoppers and Big Macs.

The question is, is this campaign offensive to virgins? to people of remote hill villages in Thailand or Romania or the tundras of Greenland?

Or is it all just good clean promotional-fun with a heavy layering of marketing hype?

It could be argued that win or lose, Burger King wins: the name of its company and its supposed superiority over McDonald’s (do you REALLY think they’ll run ads showing villagers gagging or saying McDonalds’ burgers are better?) will have gotten lots of publicity (including from articles such as this).

PERSONAL NOTE: To add a bit of fast food perspective. I PERSONALLY chronicled two major historical events in fast food history:

1. When I was a reporter on The San Diego Union covering the Marine base Camp Pendleton, I covered the opening of the first fast-food chain restaurant on an American military base, when McDonalds’ opened a branch. McD’s founder Ray Kroc showed up in his motor-powered wheelchair and Ronald McDonald led the Marine band in playing the company’s jingle at the time, “You Deserve A Break Today.” One Marine told me, pledging me not to quote him even without his name, that the assignment showed that the band needed a break and that this wasn’t the first clown who had conducted them that year…

2. When I was writing for The Christian Science Monitor in Spain immediately after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Burger King opened its branch in Madrid — the first international fast-food restaurant in Madrid. I did a story for the Monitor on BK and its jingle all over the airwaves (“You need two hands to handle a Whopper,”) which blared in Spanish throughout the day. Wine was available at BKs and young Spaniards loved it.