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Sunday Musings: Shock And Awe In Food Advertising

Missed this one as it was happening – a couple of years back – but it definitely deserves a post, especially in its capacity as something to muse on. It’s a classic case of reverse psychology, one that broke all the established rules of food advertising but succeeded brilliantly…


Not without taking a big risk, though.

Here’s the deal…

Burger King – which, coincidentally, is in the news again right now over false and deceptive advertising claims by consumers – took a big chance back in 2020 posting a controversial video ad online to emphasize it’s commitment not to use any artificial preservatives in its food. Sounds simple, but the chain wanted to illustrate just how preservative-free its burgers were by showing one decomposing over a full month, in time lapse photography.

So they cooked up a regular Whopper (albeit, presented with the help of the usual food stylist tricks) and just put it in front of a camera, taking pictures at intervals and stitching them together into a short movie.

Intriguing, disgusting, but memorable

Now, the commandments of food advertising demand that the food be presented in the most attractive – even beguiling – way possible. As we’ve mentioned in the past couple of weeks, consumers have become used to the deception, but when advertisers cross a certain line and make their products WAY more attractive on the screen than they are in real life, consumers get mad. And some are mad enough to sue. McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s are all in court right now.

So why would BK decide to use shock and awe to make its point about preservatives?

Reverse psychology. They know that folks driving down the road like nothing better than a big traffic accident to gawk at. There’s something in the human psyche that is attracted by scenes that arouse an immoderate or unwholesome interest. So BK took a chance and posted the Moldy Whopper.

It worked

The Moldy Whopper campaign earned something like 8.4 billion ‘organic media impressions’ online and was watched for more than 1.4 million minutes on Facebook. That translated to 50 percent more customer awareness than achieved by the BK Super Bowl ad, which cost a bundle to make and (US)$5 million to run just once. Compare that to the Moldy Whopper video which cost basically nothing to post on the BK Facebook page, and might have cost a few thousand dollars to make in the first place.

A follow-up survey of 2,000 people chosen at random revealed that the probability of their visiting BK in future increased by a healthy 23 percent after viewing the video.

The Moldy Whopper caper was an outstanding success on all accounts.

Muse on that!

~ Maggie J.