If you have the good fortune of following my often hilarious and always insightful Twitter account, you know of my deep distaste for advertising, specifically this recent trend of “cool” ads where brands try to ingratiate themselves with customers by tweeting like 16 year-olds and speaking about progressive issues. Out of all the dystopian aspects of the internet, this way we have let corporations hang out with us in our communication spaces is maybe the most unsettling. Instead of being on billboards or TV, ads are now basically sitting in our living room, commenting on news, replying to things we say, and trying to make funny quips to make us laugh. Yesterday, Burger King reached a new nadir of this form of advertising.
I’m going to link to the video, but I feel it requires a warning, in the same way you tell someone they might not want to view footage of an athlete gruesomely breaking his ankle or watch a murder. What I mean is, this video will reveal to anyone who views it a darkness in humanity and society that they previously did not know existed. And once that darkness has been revealed, it will always be with you. It will become a part of your soul and haunt you until the day you die. With that out of the way, let’s take a gander at this ad.
I’m going to put in a filler paragraph here just to give you some time to catch up and process what you just witnessed. If you’re like me, you may need to watch the video a second time and rub your eyes, just to make sure it’s real.
When I intensely hate something like this, I do think it is important to put myself in the shoes of someone who likes it. This ad seems widely loathed, but I’m sure some people sincerely appreciated the positive mental health message from a company like Burger King that has no obligation to “speak out” and spread awareness of such topics. But to me, that’s precisely why this ad is so uniquely evil and cynical: it’s using a deeply important societal message as a means to make you feel good about the brand, to buy their product, and to become loyal to Burger King.
I will tell you the one thing Burger King cares about: making money. That’s the only reason why companies make these ads. If the profitable ad strategy was to instead have a guy stare at the camera and say “all of you losers and weirdos are pathetic and have no hope in life, so you might as well eat our shitty burgers at Burger King,” that is what we would be seeing instead. And not only would that be more entertaining, but it would also be more admirable, because it would at least be coming from a place of honesty. But it’s obvious based on recent trends that companies are putting a lot of stock in appearing woke and progressive, presumably as a way to appeal to young people, especially on liberal-skewing platforms like Twitter.
I suspect they do this because it not only can create positive feelings, but because it inoculates the brand from criticism. Anyone ripping on this ad can be written off as someone who is opposed to the message of the ad itself. And who would want to listen to some asshole who doesn’t care about mental health issues? It is often hard to criticize stuff that is really corny and lame, but ultimately coming from a good place with fine intentions. I think it is important to differentiate this malicious ad from that type of media. This commercial is designed to manipulate and fool people.
There are numerous substantive things Burger King could do to make the world a better place. For starters, they could pay their employees more and treat them better. They could serve healthier food that doesn’t contribute to obesity and make people feel like they’re about to die after eating it. They could like, stop existing as a company and just give all of their profits over to mental health charities, if they really cared as much as this video indicates. But instead they want to have it both ways: to appear virtuous and caring while also being a ruthless money-making corporation.
Luckily, I think people did see through this BK ad because it was so poorly conceived. For one thing, I can’t imagine people are interested in approaching a counter or drive through window and saying the sentence “yes, I’ll have one DGAF meal please” out loud to another human. They really sat there in the board room fantasizing about all the clap emojis people would tweet because the burger joint now has something called a “yaaasss meal” (the actual content of these meals, as far as I know, is a mystery). And they thought the best way to make a difference when it comes to mental health was to serve their food in different-colored bags.
To actually think these things, and to believe this would be an effective ad, requires an incredibly low view of humanity, which is really what is at the core of this entire strategy of marketing. It reveals a certain insecurity that the brand doesn’t feel like they can just say “we have good burgers,” but instead has to try to capitalize on people’s emotional weaknesses — in this case, the justified anxiety and stress many have on earth in 2019. And doing it under the pretense that they’re like your friend and care about you is capitalism at its most absurd and distasteful. No matter how positive their message may seem on the surface, these brands deserve nothing but contempt.