Was Burger King smart to showcase moldy Whoppers?

Discussion
Source: Burger King - "The Moldy Whopper"
Feb 25, 2020
Tom Ryan

In a dramatic example of reverse-advertising, Burger King launched a campaign showcasing a moldy, aging version of its iconic Whopper to support the chain’s shift away from preservatives and artificial flavors.

The unconventional marketing effort includes a TV commercial, “The Moldy Whopper,” showing an all-natural Whopper in a time-lapse video rotting over the course of 34 days. Dina Washington’s 1959 hit “What a Difference A Day Makes” plays in the background. By the end of the 45-second commercial, the Whopper is consumed by green fungus.

Burger King wrote on Twitter, “The beauty of real food is that it gets ugly.”

Burger King joins Chipotle, McDonald’s, Panera and others in removing artificial ingredients following a wider food industry trend towards natural and clean eating. McDonald’s switch last year from frozen to fresh beef led to a spike in burger sales for the first time in five years.

Burger King has removed artificial preservatives from the Whopper in most European countries and will do so across its U.S. restaurants by the end of 2020. The chain has already removed artificial colors and flavors from other core menu items.

Responses to the campaign on social media and elsewhere have run widely negative. Many said the campaign ruined their appetite.

“Food advertising has to have some ‘taste appeal,’ something that pleases the eyes and senses and make your mouth watery,” wrote Avi Dan CEO of Avidan Strategies, a marketing agency, on Forbes.com. Mr. Dan also said he isn’t sure preservatives in food are a big concern for Burger King customers.

But the campaign drew major attention. The ad has been viewed nearly 1.7 million times so far on YouTube. Restaurant Business also asked its Twitter followers about the campaign and found a few believing the shock was necessary to change perceptions. Wrote one, “It’s good. (1) We are talking about it. (2) QSR food has the perception problem that it is not real food due to the additives, this hits it on the head.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Was “The Moldy Whopper” campaign an effective way for Burger King to draw attention its rollout of preservative-free burgers? Do you see a better way to introduce the shift away from preservatives and artificial flavors?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It’s gross, but it makes me feel a whole lot better than seeing photos of 10-year-old Twinkies that look the same as the day they were made."
"If Burger King wanted to launch a controversial, viral campaign without actually alienating any customers on a political level, they nailed it."
"The company made a bold statement and, even with mixed reviews, Burger King received quite a bit of publicity both good and bad over the last week."

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20 Comments on "Was Burger King smart to showcase moldy Whoppers?"


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Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Burger King was going for the shock and awe technique in modern advertising. While the company’s move to preservative-free foods is commendable, showing a rotting, moldy Whopper has had mixed results — especially on social media. However the company made a bold statement and, even with mixed reviews, Burger King received quite a bit of publicity both good and bad over the last week.

In the age of trust and transparency around sustainable and healthy ingredients, Burger King and other companies have made strides to provide healthier fast food options, however in the age of social media intensity, there are other more effective and less shocking ways to change perceptions.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Retail Industry Analyst
6 months 26 days ago

I am not a big fan of the moldy Whopper campaign, as it makes me less interested in going to Burger King. A disgusting moldy burger is probably not the best way to communicate the message of preservative-free burgers. A better approach could be to show ground beef coming out of a meat grinder and immediately formed into a burger and grilled over a flame.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The is no question that the moldy Whopper ads drew a lot of attention. It has been reported on most, if not all, of the news channels. The question is, did the ad itself draw attention or did the message behind it? It’s not a very scientific poll but, based on people I spoke to, the message was lost in the graphic way the Whopper aged.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

While Burger King got a lot of media coverage with its moldy burger, it’s not likely to see a sales uplift from it. Unless Burger King is willing to continue down a path of health and sustainability, the attention will fade just like the lettuce on that burger.

Rick Moss
Staff

As an academic exercise in how to draw attention to a product claim, it may be successful on some level, but, speaking personally, I will never be able to unsee that moldy burger.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
6 months 26 days ago

This is surely an attention grabbing play. Now that they got attention, Burger King can certainly do a more traditional ad to reinforce the positives of fresh ingredients.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

I may be old school but I did not like the campaign at all. As a result it may be awhile before I eat at Burger King again! Burger King has a good reputation and I would believe them if they just told me that they are now using fresh and only fresh product. I can think of several ways to get the message across without using moldy product. A commercial showing the fresh products being prepared and or being purchased at a farm would have been more appetizing. Let’s go back to “Where’s the Beef”!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

So it’s gross, but it makes me feel a whole lot better than seeing photos of 10-year-old Twinkies that look the same as the day they were made.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I’m with you Georganne. It makes a very good point about what getting fresh food really means. I bet it has gotten much better ratings from Millennials and younger generations and that is certainly a demographic Burger King is trying to attract. Us older fogies prefer pretty food pictures and don’t care for all the details in our faces and shown graphically. We are not as accustomed to it IMHO and for my 2 cents.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Good point, Lee! I am a Baby Boomer, classified as part of Generation Jones, so pretty pictures alone don’t do it for me. I’m also a cook so foods without preservatives is important. Mold happens on fresh food, I get where Burger King was going for.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Followers were quoted as saying: “it’s [a good ad] … we’re all talking about it.” Yeah, probably in a sick way. After seeing the picture, that horrible Whopper is sealed in my head. Every time that I drive by Burger King, that vision will pop up in my consumer mind. Horrible. That thing is not going in my stomach.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

My polite question would be, “What were they thinking?” How about “…and here is what your new car will look like after 100,000 miles…”? Or “Here are your new shoes after a season or two. Don’t those scuffs impart a beautiful patina?” I’m all for transparency, but there is also such a thing as forever imagery — very forever.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Burger King is making a significant product change. And Burger King, as it has done so often in the past, botched the ad.

Why make an ad which reminds us of how moldy and run down Burger King outlets feel these days? Where the staff has the barest enthusiasm?

The ad fails, also, because only a tiny part of the market is aware of the claim that McDonald’s burgers don’t mold. (That said, it’s very cool footage if it weren’t trying to be advertising.)

Saddest of all? Smart creative could have made it work. Reverse the footage and focus on how the Whopper is so good that customers don’t need the preservatives — so Burger King is taking them out.

A sad example of how lost the modern advertising business can be.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Without question showing a moldy, month-old burger will catch your attention, in the same way that showing graphic images of a fatal car crash replete with severed limbs and lots of blood and gore could be used to promote safe driving. But there is a world of difference between “could” and “should.” It’s clearly a stunt, but is it effective in the long haul? For one thing, am I the only one that asked themselves why it took over a month to get that moldy? And for another, is this image of my product I want to leave in potential customers minds? So does it draw attention? Yes. Are there better ways to get that attention? Without a doubt. We all understand that food rots in the same way we understand root canals hurt, but nobody would suggest watching a 30-second spot of a patient screaming in pain before going to the dentist.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

An ad like the “Moldy Whopper” is likely to win awards, but not the appetites of consumers. The flurry of broadcast media and social media response says it all.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

If Burger King wanted to launch a controversial, viral campaign without actually alienating any customers on a political level, they nailed it. The imagery definitely doesn’t spark my appetite, but I never would have known that Burger King had gone preservative-free if it wasn’t for the ad campaign, so it’s effective.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I may not be the right one to comment. I haven’t been to Burger King (or McDonald’s) for at least 25 years. My wife says it has been 40 years.

In any case, I love the ad and the message. But based on my history it will not take me back to Burger King. I will go a step further. I see it as a generic ad condemning the entire fast food industry.

W. Frank Dell II
BrainTrust

This commercial was a bad idea. Watching the mold grow raises the question: why are you showing me this and is this what I will find in your restaurant? The image was so strong that I did not even hear anything, but only assumed there was a problem. This is not how you promote going to natural foods.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Ewhhhhh….no! This is what happens when someone has an idea, and management doesn’t pay enough attention. Not sure how many fundamental rules of marketing this broke, but it was at least one too many.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Focusing your message on what you have removed from your product rather than focusing on what makes it great doesn’t seem like the smartest approach. However, we are all talking about it so at the end of the day, if Burger King wanted to draw attention to the fact that they are removing preservatives from their product, they’ve succeeded. How many of us will actually want to go to a Burger King now and eat a whopper is a completely different question. They risked alienating the very customers they want to attract by focusing on what looks like a huge negative to everyone watching the ad.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It’s gross, but it makes me feel a whole lot better than seeing photos of 10-year-old Twinkies that look the same as the day they were made."
"If Burger King wanted to launch a controversial, viral campaign without actually alienating any customers on a political level, they nailed it."
"The company made a bold statement and, even with mixed reviews, Burger King received quite a bit of publicity both good and bad over the last week."

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