Burger King explains net neutrality in Whopper ‘slow-lane’ prank

The chain hit the brakes on its signature fast-food sandwich to teach customers about the FCC’s recent action to favor certain providers of internet content. Those who didn’t get it finally got it.

When fast-food hits a speed bump, it’s jarring—and that’s just what Burger King wanted.

The restaurant chain created a video—a la last year’s anti-bullying PSA—to educate the public about the implications of the recent repeal of net neutrality.

The stunt was covered by many publications looking to tease out a motive for the video and ascribe either marketing brilliance or folly to the decision.

Adweek wrote:

David Miami, the agency behind so many clever BK campaigns in recent years, made the new spot. It’s very different than the “Bullying Jr.” PSA, but in some ways works similarly.

In place of the more emotional and poignant ending of that earlier spot, here we get a more plainly hostile vibe from the patrons—which fits the issue at hand better. If you were served a mashed-up burger, you’d be mostly confused; if you’re openly denied good service, you’d probably get annoyed pretty quickly.

There’s plenty of cursing in between the baffled looks; a few patrons even make a move to snatch their Whopper away from the BK employees. There’s a dose of “Whopper Freakout” in here, and you get the sense that the stunt could easily have turned violent—thankfully, it didn’t.

The video immediately gained traction with politicians and activists.

Bloomberg reported:

“Must watch,” tweeted Hawaii Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, who has criticized Federal Communications Commission Republicans for their December vote to eliminate rules forbidding broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing web traffic.

“When it comes to the internet, consumers and innovators deserve to have it their way — not big corporations,” Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, another Democratic senator, said in a tweet.

Others were critical of Burger King’s foray into politics.

Bloomberg continued:

“Burger King understands net neutrality even less than their people-on-the-street, who at least know they are ignorant,” tweeted Phil Kerpen, president of the group American Commitment, which backed the Republican proposal to roll back Obama-era rules.

Some were impressed with the company, singing its praises as they never imagined they would:

Although the move takes a page from the anti-bullying PSA it ran last year, this new video adopts a stance on a more partisan issue and would be a gamble for most companies. However, surveys have shown that audiences favor organizations that take a strong stance on social issues.

Adweek argued that the issue is a perfect fit for Burger King’s brand:

While not quite as inspired as “Bullying Jr.,” the “Whopper Neutrality” stunt is amusing to watch and certainly puts the issue in the plainest, most relatable terms. And once again, it’s right on brand for the “Have it your way” marketer.

“We believe the internet should be like Burger King restaurants, a place that doesn’t prioritize and welcomes everyone,” says Fernando Machado, Burger King’s global chief marketing officer. “That is why we created this experiment, to call attention to the potential effects of net neutrality.”

Recode said the move was a shrewd attempt to pick up millennial supporters:

It is the age of brands — or rather, #woke brands, those hyper-aware corporate behemoths with gargantuan marketing departments that see in every social and political cause du jour an opportunity for 15 minutes of web infamy.

Net neutrality may seem like a wonky telecom battle with little relevance to a fast-food giant. But it has attracted millions of Americans’ comments and seemingly touched a nerve, particularly among millennials — a fickle crowd that Burger King seeks now to court with its ads.

Here are three lessons for communicators looking to replicate Burger King’s “woke” messaging:

1. Let your message speak for itself.

You could be tempted to jump into the comments—once it’s gotten thousands of shares and retweets—to respond to people voicing their disapproval.


Burger King chose to tackle a controversial subject and should expect the naysayers to come out of the woodwork. It took the correct path by letting its video do the talking and avoid getting dragged into an argument in the comments section.

2. Show; don’t tell.

Burger King could have released a very different kind of video, in which its CEO would deliver a heartfelt plea for Americans to come together to support net neutrality. Instead, it showed how customers felt about a “lane” system that delayed their instant gratification.

By demonstrating the problem instead of just sounding off, Burger King shifted the argument away from whether it was a trustworthy messenger—and focus on the issue instead. Brand managers looking to take a stand on their own social or political issue can learn from Burger King’s deft move and refrain from making it all about them.

3. Include a call to action—other than buying your product.

An authentic message will avoid a crass play for internet fame and sales and instead stay true to its intent in moving the needle on the issue at hand. That means, whatever your call to action looks like, it shouldn’t ask your audience to buy your product.

Burger King’s video ended by directing viewers to the Change.org petition asking the government to restore net neutrality. The move was a simple yet necessary component of its campaign. If it tried to pivot to selling burgers, the chain would appear to be co-opting an important social movement, and whatever fans it might have picked up would be lost.

What do you think of Burger King’s prank video, Ragan/PR Daily readers? How would you take a stand on a controversial issue?

(Image via)

Topics: PR


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.