The problem with Burger King’s Burn That Ad

I’m not a fan of advertising that demeans or puts down rivals of a brand. I had written about it in context when Skechers recently took a swipe when Nike was at its lowest point, in a New York Times half-page ad no less.

The main reason for my dislike for this kind of communication is that when you indulge in negative reinforcement with your audience, you become fair game for negativity too. It’s simple human psychology.

But, there are ways to do it smartly, where the emotion is not negative and the tactic is intelligent and clever.

Let me start with Burger King’s latest stunt that asks people to find rival brands’ advertising and burn them, on augmented reality, for a free Whopper. Reason? Flame-grilling is Burger King’s signature cooking technique since 1954, and the burger chain is using virtual flames to “burn” its biggest competitors!

This, however fun it may sound, is an example of negative reinforcement, to me. You ask your customers to not only find your competition’s advertising, but also encourage them to burn it down (even if only figuratively)… all in the name of fun and free food. To me, that’s quite tacky.

But Burger King has done things smartly before. Last December, they did something considerably smarter – they offered via their app a 1-cent Whopper. The catch? They have to be within 600ft of a McDonalds location 🙂 This is smart – and uses a natively mobile feature.

But even here, when you watch the execution on video, you also get to see the reactions of McDonalds’ employees. And you notice that these customers are holding up a line at a McDonalds’ queue only because Burger King thought it’s ok to do both – hold up queues and waste the time of employees of a rival. This is sad and demeaning, even if the core idea was intelligent.

To explain how you can use rivals, but not demean or put them down, take a look at this intelligent idea by Volvo.

The simple insight is that Volvo asked people to comment on rivals’ advertising online… for a free Volvo. So, they tag themselves via viewers/audiences into other leading car brands’ communication.

To a lesser extent, this DHL idea too is intelligent, though with far lesser impact (only on-ground; more out of the video shared online to show how clever the idea was).