Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” ad campaign is the company’s latest salvo in its long food fight with rival McDonald’s – but it appears to have missed the mark.
Critics have heaped a supersize helping of scorn on the ads, saying they smack of “corporate colonialism” and “cultural bullying.”
The campaign uses the familiar blind taste test formula, but with a twist:
“What happens if you take remote Chang Mai villagers who’ve never seen a burger, who don’t even have a word for burger, and ask them to compare Whopper versus Big Mac in the world’s purest taste test?” the voice-over solemnly intones.
“The Whopper Virgins will decide.”
The Chang Mai villagers are Hmong people from northern Thailand. Inuit villagers from Greenland and peasants from the Transylvania region of Romania also have been recruited to sample the burgers.
The ads, which began running last week, have a faux Discovery Channel documentary feel.
They were shot by Stacy Peralta, a documentary filmmaker and former professional skateboarder whose credits include the skateboarding film “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and “Crips and Bloods: Made in America,” a highly praised film about gang violence.
But the project has left a bad taste in the mouths of many who have seen it.
“While (Burger King) spent millions of dollars happily tracking down people with no ‘hamburger awareness,’ the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has to go begging because they can only get one-thirtieth of the money they need to rebuild the developing world’s shattered food systems,” said Food First, an advocacy group that fights hunger.
Barbara Lippert, a columnist for Adweek, called the ads “culturally tone-deaf.”
Russ Klein, Burger King’s president of global marketing strategy, defended the campaign in a news release:
We are told that the burger virgins preferred – surprise, surprise – Whoppers to Big Macs.
But we are only left to wonder how American-style junk food, laden with hormones, steroids and saturated fats, was received by their pristine digestive systems.