What We Can Learn From Burger King’s Sexist Tweet
The marketing failure that undermined the corporation’s well-intentioned scholarship program.
For International Women’s Day 2021, the UK Burger King Twitter account announced a culinary scholarship for women. After this announcement Burger King faced a significant amount of backlash for a tweet that said ‘women belong in the kitchen.’
This tweet has since been retracted and the UK Burger King Twitter account has issued an apology. However, this marketing failure highlights the importance of differentiating between intent and impact and paying attention to the context when designing a marketing campaign. By focusing on these aspects, corporations can effectively use their outsized media presence to influence public opinion on social issues.
Intent vs. Impact
When designing a marketing campaign, the difference between intent and impact is everything. The intent is the desired outcome that a campaign hopes to have on its target audience. The impact is how the campaign is perceived by the intended audience and general public.
In a recent survey conducted in 2020 known as #BrandsGetReal, 70% of consumers felt it was important for brands to take a stance on social and political issues. These results indicate that consumers more than ever care about impact. It is no longer enough to focus on visuals and imagery. To be successful and garner attention from consumers, a brand must make a social impact in a meaningful way.
It is unlikely that Burger King, a multi-billion dollar corporation, with a marketing budget of around 372 million failed to put thought into its controversial tweet. The tweet was likely written to provoke a viral response by using a social issue. A viral response that would allow Burger King and its scholarship program to stand-out among the other marketing campaigns launched to celebrate and uplift women.
However, despite these well-intentions, Burger King failed to account for the impact, particularly on its target audience, of its use of the provocative phrase ‘women belong in the kitchen.’ A greater emphasis on impact would have allowed Burger King’s announcement to stand out and raise awareness about the under-representation of women in the culinary field without alienating its target audience.
This shows that if the intent of a marketing campaign is not properly assessed for its impact, it is likely going to lead to a marketing failure as it did for Burger King.
Why Context Matters
After the tweet, Burger King said it had used the provocative phrase ‘women belong in the kitchen’ to “draw attention to the fact that only 20% of professional chefs in UK kitchens are women.” It wanted to “undermine an outdated stereotype about women and reclaim the terminology” to empower and support women pursuing a culinary career.
However, this completely backfired for Burger King as it failed to consider the context. A campaign intended to empower women on International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women, was no place to use a misogynistic phrase historically used to belittle and undermine women to gain traction. As Professor Kerry O’Grady, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies said, “if we want to use sexism as clickbait, then you obviously are not celebrating International Women’s Day.”
The phrase ‘women belong in the kitchen’ represents a long history of oppression and continues to perpetuate ongoing stereotypes about the gendered division of labor. It has since been reclaimed by the women’s movement to celebrate and uplift women in traditionally male-dominated fields through the use of phrases like ‘women belong in the lab’ or ‘women belong in the revolution.’ For example, Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign swag included a needle pillow with the phrase ‘A women’s place is in the White House.’
Thus, Burger King’s use of the provocative phrase in this context, made the tweet sound tone-deaf. This highlights the importance for brands to understand the context, especially when dealing with complicated issues, to design campaigns that appropriately account for historical and social factors.
Influencing Public Opinion on Social Issues
In a recent study, it was found that “72% of Americans believe that it is important to buy from companies that reflect their values.” Additionally, 64% of consumers said they avoided brands as a result of their societal beliefs. As more and more consumers base their consumption decisions based on a brand’s stance on important social causes, brands must account for impact and context in their marketing to be successful.
By properly accounting for these crucial factors, brands can employ socially driven marketing campaigns to build consumer loyalty and for the betterment of society. They can use their outsized media presence and massive marketing budgets to raises awareness about causes, such as the lack of women in the culinary field, without perpetuating and using harmful stereotypes.
The use of socially driven marketing, therefore, has the potential if used effectively to benefit both brands and the public.