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  • Laura Cameron

How Burger King Got It So Very Wrong

Art by @fempowerart

We’ve all seen it. And if you haven’t… where have you been? Burger King’s brilliant social media marketing idea was to take to Twitter, on International Women’s Day no less, to say “Women belong in the kitchen”. No, it’s not a joke, it was a genuine tweet.

Screenshot taken from Twitter

They've deleted it now, of course, and apologised. Admittedly, they had followed their tweet by advertising their scholarship programme, meant to empower women to "pursue a culinary career". Although, I'd have to say, I'm not sure how many women they've inspired with the opening line "women belong in the kitchen". Sexist jokes - what a way to empower women.

As someone living in the 21st Century, I've got news for you, Burger King: it's sooo not funny.

In fairness, they're not the first global company to fall into this trap. And I'm sure they won't be the last. We all remember Audi's ad comparing buying a car to finding a wife - sexism at its finest. So, where's the line? Where does good, comedic marketing become sexist and offensive advertising?

The shame in Burger King's case is that their campaign was actually a promising one, one that was meant to inspire women to get involved in a field dominated by men (or perhaps could have done, if they hadn't gotten it so wrong).

Now, I won't pretend to be a marketing expert, but I am definitely a consumer, a woman … and a feminist. So, I'm going to give you my (unsolicited) opinion on how to cleverly market a product or service - without causing outrage.

Pro tip: If you're targeting women, don't be sexist

Burger King was advertising their scheme for women, aimed at women, and made a sexist and archaic joke about … women. You can see where they went wrong, can't you?

Take Yorkie Bars, for example: they've used sexist advertising for years. You know the one, "it's not for girls" and all that. Now I, in no way, condone this sort of advertising but, while their ad did spark some controversy, they never had the kind of issues Burger King faced. Why is this? Partly because, yes, we've evolved and don't live in 2002 anymore, but also because their advertising was seemingly aimed at the male market. And we all know how fragile masculinity can be.

Remember that it's not 1955

Even Yorkie, the men-only bar, has changed with the times. In 2012, their slogan changed from "not for girls" to "man fuel for man stuff". Now, of course, it's still not ideal … but it's a change and an attempt to move with the times. This is exactly what Burger King failed to understand in their Twitter campaign. They confused marketing from the 1970s with contemporary marketing - and it blew up in their faces.

At a point where feminism is said to be on the verge of its "fourth wave", I'd argue it's the worst possible time for a sexist marketing campaign … even if it is intended as a joke. It's like making a racist joke in a #blacklivesmatter campaign: Aside from the fact that such a thing like a racist 'joke' simply doesn't exist (hello, oxymoron), my tip for you is: just don't.

Marketing is no longer a billboard in a single town. It's worldwide social media.

In a time where a single photo can be shared by millions of people in a matter of mere minutes, companies have to simply be better (and more cautious) than ever. One single tweet can blow up in seconds - which can be a huge advantage … if you use it right. If not, one mistake or bad joke can ruin a career (or an entire franchise).

Burger King's original tweet had 329K retweets before they eventually took it down. Of course, the apology they later issued via Twitter only got retweeted a measly 900 times. Not as effective, is it?

My point is, if you use social media properly, it can make your business. If you abuse it and offend people, it can break it. As it should.

By all means, be funny and make a joke. I love a witty advert as much as the next gal, but the line between funny and offensive is becoming increasingly fine. And I'd advise, if you can't make a good, tasteful joke … don't make one at all.

Words: Laura Cameron

Art: @fempowerart

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