Sunday, January 4, 2009

Whopper Virgins deflowered

About a month ago I posted about Burger King's new Whopper Virgins campaign. They were airing a teaser commercial that showed how they traveled to remote places (Thailand countryside, Greenland, Romania, etc.) and asked locals who have never eaten a burger whether they preferred a Whopper or a McDonald's Big Mac. Unsurprisingly, the initial spots incited unease and even anger -- which is what tends to happen when you use poor, isolated peoples as guinea pigs for your fast food products and then put them in your commercials rather than, you know, helping them not starve to death.

So the new ads are way toned down. Here's one example:

Announcer: This woman is a Whopper virgin.

The commercial I really wanted wasn't on YouTube, but it shows a Transylvanian farmer donning an amusing traditional outfit and tiny hat, and the voiceover asks him, "Was it good for you?" Ahh, unnecessary sexuality shoe-horned into a commercial for food. That could only be the hackish work of... Crispin Porter + Bogusky! (To summarize my feelings on that agency, just know that the authors of this site are probably not going to get jobs over there any time soon.)

At least there's no outright, creepy sexuality in this spot -- aside from calling a middle-aged Inuit woman a virgin of some kind.

She's never eaten a burger.

That reminds me. I need someone who doesn't know how to read to tell me if they like this blog or not. I'll publish the results at the top of the page next week.

Will she prefer the Whopper or the Big Mac?

The tension is killing me, Burger King! Just tell me, already, which burger did she like?! Will it possibly be the one you're promoting in this commercial?!?!!!?1111!?

Inuit Woman's translation: "I like this one."
Announcer: It appears she's got a taste for flame-broiled beef.

Well, that settles that! One out of one Inuit people who have no concept of burgers prefers the Whopper! Uh, McDonald's? Might as well close those 14,000 stores, my friends. You've been discredited.... all thanks to the crack research team over at Crispin Porter + Bogusky!

Of course all this didn't stop Crispin Porter from being voted agency of the year by Adweek. In their defense, yes, they won a ton of business this year -- including that huge Microsoft account with the confounding Bill Gates spot. On the other hand, give me a fucking break. Here's an exceprt from that article:

With the Gates-Seinfeld spots coming and going in a flash, it was widely assumed Microsoft pulled them early, in a tacit admission they had flopped. Not the case, says Rob Reilly, Crispin's co-ecd, who, along with co-chairman Alex Bogusky, led the creative pitch for the estimated $300 million Windows assignment in late 2007.

"The point of the Bill and Jerry stuff was to get people thinking about Microsoft in a different way," says Reilly. "So, when 'I'm a PC' came, you were ready for something different. It was always designed to be two weeks. It did exactly what it was supposed to do."

I'm sorry, what? You guys gave Seinfeld ten million dollars, remember? You wanted to pay him ten million just to use him in two commercials? And the result was "exactly" what it was supposed to be? Fuck off.

There's just so much bullshit with the attention whores at CP+B, and no one ever calls their work what it is -- vapid noise. Here's what they do for your brand -- they get publicity, at the expense of everything your brand stands for. Take that Whopper Virgins campaign -- loads of press. But was it good press? There simply is such a thing as bad publicity, especially when you're trying to sell products. Even the response from the normally sympathetic BK audience was tepid -- those commercials on YouTube were getting like 2.5 and 3 stars on average. With the grade inflation on YouTube that's like getting an F. I even saw one comment (not from me, I promise), that said "I'm done with Burger King."

Once again I have to ask -- when will marketers in America end their regrettable love affair with Crispin Porter?


Anonymous said...

"Unsurprisingly, the initial spots incited unease and even anger -- which is what tends to happen when you use poor, isolated peoples as guinea pigs for your fast food products and then put them in your commercials rather than, you know, helping them not starve to death."

Yes, how dare Burger King give these poor people food and money to appear in a television commercial. Shame on them! These adults obviously cannot make their own decisions. They're in desperate need of the busybody activists whom presume to speak for them and every other group of "those people" to cry about it loudly and publicly. I'm so sure it is truly their interests they have in mind when speaking for others, and not their own self-promoting grandstanding. Thank God for these selfless people.

Quivering P. Landmass said...

You're seriously going to defend this campaign along that line of reasoning? Burger King gave them "FOOD"? It was a taste test of something they didn't even like in the first place -- go to and judge their reactions for yourself. Way to feed the poor!

Also, money? You think by selecting three or four Inuit people and giving them scale pay to appear in a commercial, that somehow helps the community? Come off it.

If you just like the campaign or think it's funny or whatever, fine. But do not try to pretend like BK was interested in ANY WAY in doing the "right thing." And by the way, I don't know any of these activists you're talking about, but I write a tiny, unadvertised blog that earns me zero dollars a year (like 99% of blogs.) I have no need for self-promotion.

Joe said...

You realize all of these people in these commercials are actors, right?

Quivering P. Landmass said...

*BUZZ* - WRONG! Joe, do you seriously think I would spend all that time writing this post without doing my research? They're real people, not actors. Real Transylvanians, Hmong people and Inuits -- Crispin Porter actually has its own documentary filmmakers on staff.


Or, Joe, you can go to where it says in BIG CAPPED TYPE:

I know I rag on BK all the time, but even they wouldn't put a bald-faced lie on their website that would invite litigation.

Joe said...

I stand corrected, Quivering, and I should've done my own research as well. My mistake. I still enjoy your site and look forward to updates.

Quivering P. Landmass said...

Sorry if I sounded snarky there. I kind of thought you were the same person as anonymous up there. I guess I let my emotions get the better of me when it comes to Crispin Porter!

Joe said...

No worries! I definitely put a name behind anything I comment on. I work at a small ad agency and produce mostly small budget local spots, and I'm also often amazed and/or disgusted at what the 'big boys' produce, whether from a lack of creativity or tact... or both.

TRichter said...

"That reminds me. I need someone who doesn't know how to read to tell me if they like this blog or not. I'll publish the results at the top of the page next week."

This isn't really an accurate analogy. It would be more along the lines of asking someone who's never read a blog, rather than someone who is illiterate, to read yours and form an opinion. Unless Inuits and Transylvanians don't eat, that is, in which case these ads go from stupid to surreal.

Also, I think the comment by the initial poster was less a defense of BK's intentions here, and more an annoyance with the various self-appointed crusaders out there that rally in defense of previously or currently exploited peoples in situations where they aren't being exploited in a truly detrimental fashion. Advocacy for the mistreated is a good thing, but there probably is a line to be drawn here in that regard, since to my knowledge, these people were asked to eat a burger and probably received a pittance as compensation, not beaten and tortured. Better to attack these ads on the basis of their extreme stupidity, and save the moral outrage for real transgressions, in my opinion.

Quivering P. Landmass said...

Point #1: Fine. My comment was meant to be over-the-top, but you are technically correct.

Point #2: Yeah, but I attack EVERY ad for being extremely stupid -- so it's kind of nice to have that occasional commercial (usually from Crispin Porter) that goes the extra mile by transcending mere stupidity and being offensive. Maybe using isolated, non-Western groups of people to advertise fast food isn't a high crime, but I think the cumulative effect of the campaign is pretty insensitive. It's that classic BK solipsism, "Oh my God, there are poverty-stricken people out there who don't even use telephones? I wonder what they think about our burgers!!" Most people who see children living in mud shacks might want to help, or at least leave them well enough alone. Burger King wants to put them on billboards as a humorous lark.

Patrick said...

It's interesting to note the level of Western imperialist thought here. They discuss the subjects like it's a nature documentary. What's funniest is that all these people have likely heard about Burger King before. They have Burger King and McDonald's in the Hmong region. They watch American and British TV stations.
Transylvania, it's hard to say, because it doesn't exist anymore, does it? Oh, and I liked your idea to have people who can't read contribute their opinions on your blog. My little sister typed:

Very useful, I think

Windier E. Megatons said...

Last night's Saturday Night Live featured a parody of the Whopper Virgins spot that gets at the same idea.

It doesn't seem to be on or Hulu, so see it there before it gets pulled from YouTube.