For too long we’ve held burgers in our society to an unachievable standard of beauty, with TV ads dazzling us with ultra-stylised and frankly unrepresentative shapes and tones. Or at least, this seems to be the tacit message from Burger King’s new ad campaign in which we are invited to watch a timelapse of a Whopper’s gradual decline over 34 days, and celebrate as we watch in visceral detail a once-perfect burger develop an ecosystem of furry mold.
It’s worth noting just how much the implications of this ad mirrors the themes of women’s beauty advertisements, in which ‘realness’ and ‘honest depictions’ are celebrated and encouraged, and rightly so.
Just as the shift towards ‘realness’ in the beauty industry was prompted by the advent of Instagram influencers, who come in all shapes and sizes offering a fresh new perspective on beauty standards, household names in other industries have had to grapple with the same challenge. Second only to photos of actual people, ‘foodie’ profiles now dominate Instagram and YouTube, presenting a real threat to established purveyors of fast food such as McDonald’s and Burger King. No ad is entirely new, they are always based on the ones that came before; the difference here is that it’s based on a different genre.
As with ‘honest’ beauty advertising, the ad is a clear attack on the mouldless burgers fast food has become known for and is supposed to mark a shift in the company’s approach to its marketing and ethics. However, the product shown is still a world away from what an average customer could expect to receive when visiting the outlet, which is a strange message for Burger King to send its customers and is ultimately responsible for how the ad has been derided as shock tactics, rather than an attempt at honest, transparent marketing.
Burger King has done something quite bold, besides breaking the obvious rule that you should present your product looking its best. The company has broken out of the entire genre of food marketing, resulting in something discordant, jarring, and above all, new. It’s for this reason that it can only be viewed as a success. It provokes conversation by virtue of its disruptive nature, and prompts a critical eye to turn to its biggest rival, restarting a conversation McDonald’s have spent decades trying to subdue.
Compared to a 2015 campaign in which they tried to market their new ‘satisfries’ as a healthy fast food option, which was regarded as a failure, this ad shows an acknowledgment by Burger King that it may be easier to win people over not by presenting themselves as flawless, but adopting that ‘realness’ made popular by the ‘before and after’ Instagram culture.