Burger King drew criticism this month after a promotion for its latest sandwich caused negative public reaction that began trending online.
To introduce the global fast-food giant’s new Vietnamese Sweet Chili Tendercrisp Burger in New Zealand, the fast-food chain uploaded a video to its New Zealand Instagram account.
The video showed Westerners attempt to eat the sandwich, all while fumbling with oversized chopsticks. This “prop” that’s used so clumsily was intended for comedic effect but instead came across as blatant disrespect to a culture by purposefully misusing a utensil that has existed for centuries.
Social media users were quick to demand an apology from the second-largest burger chain. Maria Mo, a Korean-New Zealander, spoke with CNN and labeled the add as “Orientalism.” “I couldn’t believe such blatantly ignorant ads are still happening in 2019,” she told CNN. “I could not believe that such a concept was approved for such a big, well-known company.”
Burger King has since deleted the clip and issued an apology for the promotion’s lack of cultural sensitivity. “The ad in question is insensitive and does not reflect our brand values regarding diversity and inclusion,” a Burger King spokesperson said. “We have asked our franchisee in New Zealand to remove the ad immediately.”
Burger King’s lapse in judgement leaves some questioning how the oversight could’ve even occurred, given similar reactions to recent ads that also played on widespread Asian stereotypes. Mere months ago, Dolce & Gabbana was left apologizing for its promotion of the Shanghai runway show. Those videos, deleted 24 hours after having been posted, depicted an Asian woman struggling with her chopsticks while attempting to eat various Italian dishes as a narrator coaches her on how to use “these small stick-like things.”
Even more recently, Rihanna’s makeup brand, typically known for its inclusivity, was called out for naming their latest highlighter “Geisha Chic.” Fans of Fenty Beauty were quick to bring attention to the fetishization of geishas in America. Quick to react, the blush shade has since been removed from the Fenty Beauty site and is no longer being promoted on the line’s Instagram feed.
Brands seem to be less risk-averse on social media than they are in traditional print ads and television commercials. In an effort to stand out in overly saturated social media feeds jam-packed with paid content, brands constantly try to outdo one another by attempting to appear “trendy,” “edgy” or “humorous.” This is rarely successful when a brand’s marketing team lacks diversity and is unable recognize cultural insensitivities before pressing “post.”
Paris Kissel is an account executive at LEVICK.