Responsible or not? Burger King’s Whopper Virgins

The idea is simple, really.

Since everyone in America has heard of or tried a Whopper and the Big Mac, conduct taste tests in locations that have never even heard of Burger King or McDonald’s signature products.

And that’s what Burger King did—took their taste tests to remote locations in Romania, Greenland and Thailand.

Here’s a short film documenting their project, released yesterday, December 7th at WhopperVirgins.com:

While more subdued than some of Burger King’s recent advertising, the Whopper Virgins campaign has been called exploitive and offensive.

Criticisms include:

  • Taste tests were conducted in impoverished areas
  • Cultural insensitivity; use of cultural stereotypes
  • The use of the word “Virgin” in a mainstream ad campaign
  • Most feedback has come in response to the :30 documentary teasers (1, 2).

    But after watching the actual documentary, do you believe Burger King’s Whopper Virgins campaign is responsible marketing or not?

    Comment below to share your opinion.

    Subscribe to this feed.

    . . .

    Hat tip to Jason Keath for sharing this campaign with me on Twitter.

    Join the discussion 20 Comments

    • Carri Bugbee says:

      I saw the commercial for the first time just a day ago and was instantly appalled. It provoked me to think about what I found most appalling. I’m no prude, but I initially thought that the use of the word “virgin” in a broadcast commercial was crude and uncalled for.

      That said, however, if I’m really honest, I think I would have given the ad a pass for being crude if it had just been funny.

      Like so many ideas, this one probably sounded interesting in the pitch, but the final execution is lame and painful to watch. They were obviously aiming for a Borat-style culture clash that makes us laugh at the absurdity of people who live differently, but they didn’t (and frankly couldn’t and still get it on the air) go far enough to make this work.

      They should have shelved this idea. It won’t work unless you can take it to a much more absurd (i.e., non-politically correct) level of comedy. BTW, the video you showed here on the blog isn’t the commercial I saw on the air. The video is even more dull and pointless. People in different companies eat different foods. We get it. Yawn…

      Carri Bugbee
      Social Profiles: https://chi.mp/s/carribugbee.mp

    • I think that’s one of the most appalling things I’ve ever seen. It’s patronising, colonial and most of all, shows, the impoverishment and ignorance of yer average Burger King exec – their idea of global culture literally goes no further than a hamburger.

    • I guess I was able to look beyond the commercialization of this film, and I really enjoyed the video. How fascinating to see people all over the world be exposed to something new.

      At no point did I get the sense that the hamburger execs were planning to open some new outlets in Greenland, or Outer Mongolia based on these taste tests. The video seemed more like a social experiment. It was fantastic to watch people try and figure out how to eat a hamburger when you and I just take it for granted. It was also wonderful to see these communities welcome the film crew with their own food and culture.

      The only sad note is that for these people their first and perhaps last foray into the world of the hamburger was the dreck from BK & McDonalds

    • T.S. Franklin says:

      Yes, they are offensive, but honestly, I also found them mildly amusing. Still, I would not have chosen to run the ads. Not because of the content, but because it’s not going to drive anyone into BK burger joints. That’s where they fail.

    • […] just saw on The Responsible Marketing Blog Burger King’s latest attempt at […]

    • I was a little upset that it was done in impoverished areas. I wanted to end the video, within 3 minutes of watching. More upset that the word “virgin” was used to market. I found it very offensive, it did not motivate me to visit BK. Poor marketing.

    • Melissa Griswold says:

      At first read of this campaign (prior to watching the video) I was wondering what BK was thinking. They are always willing to push the envelope in their advertising and the past few campaigns (whopper freak out, the king) have been AMAZING. Not to mention the fact that one of my best friends thought up both campaigns. 🙂 But back to the topic at hand. Then I watched the video and was impressed and astounded.

      I am coming from a younger generation of marketers and quite frankly, the use of the term virgin doesn’t mean the same to us as maybe the older generation. To us it’s no longer that “untouched” woman who is saving herself for marriage, but it’s just another word for pure or untainted, which these people obviously are. I’m not offended.

      Secondly, the use of the word “remote” locations is wrong. If you watch the beginning of the video again, they specifically say they travel to locations that aren’t touched by media advertising, yet only 15 minutes away from the nearest McD’s/BK so they could have relatively fresh burgers. McD and BK wouldn’t waste money by putting a location out in the middle of BFE – they researched these locations, so obviously these people are near a major town.

      I agree with Elizabeth as for my reaction to the video. I even loved how the American company “switched” foods at the end. We made burgers for them and they cooked their meals for us and we ate it and loved it. I thought that was amazing.

      I don’t think what they did at all was cruel or mean. They exposed these people who may never be able to get outside their country to something new. And no, they weren’t trying to be funny or borat-esque, I suggest you watch it again. It’s real (unlike Borat) and never do they pick on another person’s culture. These people were excited to be introducing something so new to these people.

    • I don’t think the campaign is either responsible or irresponsible. It’s just an original take on taste tests, and actually kind of interesting.

      I was born in Vietnam and am half-Asian, and I don’t find the ads offensive. While living in Japan and Taiwan, I enjoyed introducing people to various American foods and gauging their reactions. Likewise, they enjoyed introducing various foods to me. At one point, I could have been called a “sea-urchin virgin,” and would not have been offended in the least.

      Indeed, I’m rather surprised that people are finding “virgin” offensive. How many decades has it been since Madonna sang “Like a virgin”? I think the use of the term is funny. I’m just amazed that Richard Branson hasn’t sued for trademark infringement.

      Overall, I commend Burger King for giving us an original concept and competing on the basis of quality. Other fast food chains are reacting to the recession with price warfare, which is short sighted and boring to watch. And in the case of Subway’s “five dollar footlong” commercials, painful to endure.

    • […] Moi qui adorait Burger King, qui m’en était régalé lors de mon dernier séjour à Stockholm, qui fait partie du groupe de soutien du retour du Whopper en France… bin là non, désolé, je bloque. Ca ne passe plus, Burger King est allé franchement trop loin. […]

    • Lorena says:

      Yes, I think it was responsible marketing. Some people were asked to do a taste test. They offered their opinion. Whooper proved itself better than McD. Everybody is happy. And I thought the movie was funny. And I still do not eat at BK.

      I also think the movie needs some clarification and BK were not fair in doing this … I am originally from Romania. The village of Budesti is not situated “15 minutes away from the nearest BK” (as even the map implies: Bucharest-Budesti=15 minutes – I have no idea where those people were running). A search on maps.yahoo.com locates it (approx) 10 hrs and 38 minutes away from Bucharest (http://maps.yahoo.com/#mvt=m&lat=46.063984&lon=24.76271&zoom=8&q1=bucharest%252C%2520romania&q2=maramures%2520romania) – and the closest BK (5 locations in Romania, with plans to open 10 more in 2009 – http://www.burgerking.com.ro – Romanian only).

      Leaving the BK movie aside, I think the critics need to better make their homework:

      1. Is “remote” relative” to the nearest BK or on a map, in general? Calling Romania “remote” is far from truth. We are talking about an EU country, less than 1000 miles away from Western Europe…

      2. Labelling – without research or knowledge – countries or regions as “impoverished” – is this really the truth?

      Those Romanian people are not impoverished. They do not live in foreclosed homes and some of them might even have more money than many of us. They have all the money they need (and more). Those people have not changed their customs for more than 2000 years and are so proud of their heritage and the way they dress and live – they could not care less for BK, McD, and urbanization.

      Looking at the rest of the people featured in the movie, I guess what I noticed about Romania is valid for the other countries, too.

    • Melissa Griswold says:

      Alright! I think I see where everyone (myself included) is confused about the location of these places. I re-watched the video and their TESTING facility was 15 minutes away from the McD’s and BK in Bucharest. Then they all went back the the villages, which are not 15 minutes away.

    • lsb57 says:

      Actually, the only place in Romania where people wear that particular kind of costume IS more than 10 hours away from Bucharest (and where the rest of the scenes were filmed). I still do not understand why would they bother to fly/drive those people to Bucharest, move them 15 minutes away from the big city (!!!), fly them and the whole crew and a BK grill back to the other end of the coutry… Not that it matters from a marketing point of view 🙂

    • Moon says:

      Honestly, I don’t get where the film’s critics are coming from, I thought it was fascinating. I watched a story about it on CBS this morning, and one of the critics was blasting them for doing this in “impoverished” areas, it didn’t strike me that way, they were an entirely different culture, a culture *we’re* not familiar with either, obviously rural cultures as opposed to city cultures. What we call rural in America takes on a whole different meaning in Europe and Asia, we have big ol pickups and tractors in our rural picture, and happy farmers with the latest equipment and electricity milking cows in a sterile environment, we just don’t relate to rural in the way that Europeans and Asians do. A representative from Burger King responded that these people were in no way starving, that food was abundant in the locations where they filmed this, and they were very careful to make sure that they were going to locations where food was abundant and the people were healthy and happy in their cultural context. While Americans would look at their surroundings and consider that if an American lived that way, we would consider such an American to be “impoverished” by our standards, an American would look at a culture like that and liken it to some remote hollers in Appalachia, and Americans consider such rustic types to be impoverished when they are not necessarily. As near as I can tell, these folks aren’t any more “impoverished” than Amish farmers, but we have a bias concerning things like living without electricity and department stores. That is a reflection of our arrogance and our spoiled American McMansion lifestyle to a point where even well meaning people have a blind spot. It really didn’t strike me as an attempt at comedy, either, or as poking fun at these people, but again it seems to me to be lodged in American blind spots. If this were a show on the National Geographic channel where scientific types go out to study a tribal society, and expose the members of the tribe to cultural artifacts such as watches or Tupperware, the same folks who are blasting this idea would probably find it interesting as a scientific study, as opposed to a commercial, and would less likely have looked at it as “exploiting” these people if it were an actual documentary instead of a commercial. The point they would be missing then is that the whole point of the show would be to sell air time for the sponsors who sponsor the show, it’s still there to sell stuff, if you put Burger King on it, or National Geographic, yet it’s somehow more “pure” if you sandwich the sponsor’s commercials between segments of the “legitimate” show. If there is any irresponsibility going on, I would suggest that it is in Burger King making a commercial that Americans suffer culture shock in watching, and a little too cutting edge for some of the viewers to cope with. I don’t understand the hoohaw over the term Whopper Virgin either, the term Virgin has been used as slang in our culture for some time now to signify someone who has never done (insert activity), and not just as a descriptive of someone who has never had sex anymore. I found the cultural exchange of offering a town a burger party, then the town turns around and offers a cultural exchange of their local dishes looked like fun to me. I also liked that they showed all the responses, no matter what was picked, obviously the Whopper was in the lead, but there were plenty of responses of Big Mac or no preference shown, not just editing it to look like every one said Whopper Whopper Whopper, one guy would rather have seal meat, thank you very much…..maybe they just didn’t account for American blind spots where Americans observe a vastly different culture enough.

    • […] Lite v. Bud Light, Whopper v. Big Mac, Campbells v. Progresso and Dunkin’ Donuts (or McDonalds) v. Starbucks all immediately come […]

    • […] King—fresh from a beating in the blogosphere for their Whopper Virgins campaign—has snapped […]

    • brandi kae says:

      The commercial is COMPLETELY OFFENSIVE and needs to be stopped.

    • HLsupporter says:

      What about these Whopper, Perrier, Mercedes, IBIS and School Virgins?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gEyvS56Y9A

    • ginger says:

      For those of you who were offended by the use of the word virgin, please read below in the Miriam Webster Dictionary definition, particularly item 4 part b.

      Main Entry: 1vir·gin
      Pronunciation: ?v?r-j?n
      Function: noun
      Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French virgine, from Latin virgin-, virgo young woman, virgin
      Date: 13th century
      1 a: an unmarried woman devoted to religion bcapitalized : virgo
      2 a: an absolutely chaste young woman b: an unmarried girl or woman
      3capitalized : virgin mary
      4 a: a person who has not had sexual intercourse b: a person who is inexperienced in a usually specified sphere of activity
      5: a female animal that has never copulated

      Also – to the rest of you who implied that the people that taste tested the burgers were impoverished – did you actually watch the entire video?

      Sadly – this is the state of America. Too many of us are offended by nearly everything and assume anyone who doesn’t live like us is less fortunate than us.

      I thought this video was fascinating and the cultural exchange with food and the interaction was most excellent. The fellow who gave the lovely hand made coat to the American may have thought he was impoverished because he didn’t have a beautiful coat. ; )

    • tedlow says:

      There’s a funny blog on freedomhaters.org on the Whopper Virgins commercial.

      It ties it into Noam Chomsky and how the indigenous people on the commercials will most likely be forced to move to big cities when the fast food chains move in, and have to work for Burger King for a tenth of what American’s make.

      Check it out here:

      http://freedomhaters.org/content/what-would-noam-chomsky-say-about-burger-kings-whopper-virgin-ad-campaign

    • […] just saw on The Responsible Marketing Blog Burger King’s latest attempt at […]

    Leave a Reply