Entries in PR Strategies (2)
Like others, I watched the latest Burger King “Whopper Virgins” commercial with a mixture of horror, incredulity and not a small amount disgust. Beyond thinking that this could be a lost scene from Idiocracy, I got to wondering about the strategic reasoning behind such a campaign - one that I think was designed to offend.
Produced by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the auters behind the magically absurd “Subservient Chicken”, the Whopper Virgins campaign presents itself as an anthropological study-cum-documentary in which “researchers” set out to geographically isolated areas to taste test the Whopper versus the Big Mac (and amazingly, these uber-isolated communities happen to reside within 15 minutes of both a Burger King and a McDonalds – huh?).
Now these are not dumb people. And surely at some point in the process of creating a multi-million dollar national campaign, someone must have raised their hand to point out that this might piss off a few people – from the prigs on the right objecting to the use of the word ‘virgin’ to the leftist intellectualistas who recoil at the cultural inappropriateness of the ad (and who likely do not eat at Burger King in the first place).
So that leaves us with the likely scenario that they knew full well that this campaign would offend. They wanted it to. They well understood the risks and made a business decision that the ink such a campaign would generate would overshadow any long-term negative impact (and yet here I am adding to the virtual chatter). No such thing as bad PR and all that.
But here's the thing -- you'd think they would at least give the perception that they care about what people think. Why not even make a token gesture that ties into the campaign -- for every whopper purchased in 2009, Burger King will donate a portion of the proceeds to the indigineous commities they exploited visited?
One thing I'll give them credit for -- the burgers in the ad look like the genuine, unappetizing article:
Full disclosure: the last time I had Burger King was in the Mexico City airport and consequentlly spent the first three days of my honeymoon in a Oaxaxan hospital... so I might be just a little bitter.
These days, every company seems to have one thing in common -- they're all going Green. And not in the traditional, capitalistic sense but rather in the tree hugging, carbon footprint reducing one. The perception naturally is that consumers will reward those companies (and perhaps pay a premium) to those that they perceive are doing well by doing good. These
same companies -- whether its Shell, Ford or Apple -- spend a pretty expensive penny trying to convince us that they're being responsible stewards of the environment. While their motives are not hard to ferrett out, I do question how effective these campaigns are (and what criteria they use to measure whether or not they are successful). Do consumers really believe these pronouncements to be authentic? Or is it simply a case of "Greenwashing"? (actually, greenwashing isn't really the right term as it implies that an organization is acting in a way that is in direct opposition to what it is publicizing -- I'm talking more about "GreenVeneering" in which there may not be any malicious intent but it simply rings hollow)
While Greenwashing/veneering isn't a new idea per se, it's certainly become more pronounced over the past few years as more companies jump on the eco merry-go-round. While not nearly as insidious as Astroturfing, the practice of Greenwashing is becoming an all too common component of modern PR strategies, especially for large consumer product companies who recognize that today's younger generation is more cognizant of environmental issues (whether or not their cognizance translates into purchasing is another question) But I would argue -- without anything substantial to back me up -- that consumers, young and old alike, are increasingly becoming desensitized to these messages, rendering these campaigns largely ineffective in the long term. If this turns out to be the case, will companies be less inclined to invest in eco-friendly messages? Or rather, will they be forced to identify new strategies that actually demonstrate the impact (or lack there of) they're making?