The Chicken or The Egg?
Managing a brand is not easy, consumers are tough judges. Anti-corporate types of people will look for reasons to chastise brands and show their “evil ways”, and the larger the brand the more vulnerable it is. When it comes to social and societal issues, brands have a responsibility as corporate entities, they need a certain amount of awareness and relevance about what consumers' perceptions are, as well as those perspectives of the general public. It is less about what “we think as a brand”, and more about “are we aligned with what’s happening?”
It’s easy to judge Burger King (UK), for their cheeky headline recently on Women’s Day. A few years ago, it would have been witty, and everyone would laugh, but even back then, it would have still been a headline that made a joke at the expense of women.
I would be lying if I did not say this was a visually appealing ad, with a bold headline in line with their newly released visual identity. Waking up each day in recent weeks past, all I would see was good news about Burger King, and I enjoyed it, I read every article to see who disagrees with their new ID, prepared to defend its glory. There was something strange about this ad though, it was a Women’s Day ad, and I was lead here after I saw a tweet from Burger King (UK), and it was no good, it was a discombobulating moment.
I follow brands, I review them, I criticize them, 2020 was a great year amidst the unfortunate reality of COVID19, but I observed brands responding to this unreal but so real reality everyone calls the new normal…Burger King was one of those brands who made good moves, then they followed with a brilliant new visual ID and I cheered. I looked forward to the rolling out across the planet, in some ways, I become attached to these brands. It feels great to be aware of them and the things they do. People often ask my opinions or send me updates and ask, “what do you think of the new whatever from X brand?”.
The strategy for Burger King’s (UK) Women’s Day print ad I assume, was to have a disruptive headline that grabs the attention of everyone and then leads into something more important and meaningful. This backfired because a headline that says “Women belong in the kitchen” is literally trying to snatch victory from the mouth of lions, and ultimately failing.
I should point out; I speak about the UK ad because I am not sure if it was a global move…
The headline was such a massive blow-up that barely anyone even thought about the rest of the ad, which was to highlight Burger King’s platform dedicated to women. This translated to the tweet thread that followed the same print ad structure, with no context in the leading tweet was attacked with absolutely no mercy.
Admittedly, I gave the tweets likes when I read what it was about, or what was the intent (screenshot is from my mobile).
We live in a reactionary society, unfortunately…tailoring content across these platforms is important. A brilliant print ad (not necessarily speaking about bK’s ad) will not necessarily work in the same hierarchy on a place such as Twitter, which was ultimately revealed…I am still a big fan of Burger King, but I cannot blind myself to bad copy. Naturally, I knew there was more to the tweet, as a professional, a big brand such as Burger King would have to be losing its mind if there was no more to the tweet. However, consumers are not ad professionals or brand managers, they are not designers or copywriters, they don’t necessarily read things how they were intended, this is a communication responsibility on the brand side. The consumer should not have to decipher your ad, or the ad should not need to be explained to the consumer.
The first tweet while reflecting the print headline, on a platform such as Twitter…would become the target. Some lessons there, or perhaps I am wrong, and it got the intended awareness going.
That said, the negative responses speak primarily to a copywriting issue, creative writing. Good copy usually means a good ad is going to be given birth…but what is a good copy? That is hard to say, it is mostly about being direct, and relevant to the audience.
The power of copywriting goes both ways, bad copy is just as impactful, if not more impactful than good copy. The copywriter is the nucleus to great advertising, timing dictates relevance and whether the copy is good or bad. The real-world response is not priceless.
Good copywriting is rooted in savvy creative writing, the witty, sarcastic, a bit of cynicism, but mostly a metaphorical ability to write while speaking to something important. Critical thinking produces great creativity because it asks a lot of questions.
It is important to understand that while the possibility of a female Creative Director coming up with a tone-deaf ad on women’s day could be unlikely…it doesn’t remove the possibility of still coming up with a tone-deaf ad. Burger King’s (UK) tweet didn’t fail because it’s Twitter, the tweet failed because the headline failed. Whether there were females involved or not, it was just old, possibly lazy, and cheeky writing. Burger King does have a platform to help women in the culinary arts, a good thing got overlooked because of bad writing.
I would like to think that Burger King (UK) isn’t all male…I am sure there are women involved in the management of the brand. Perhaps, they did not speak up for many reasons related to a number of things we could list all day, most likely centred around corporate culture and governance, but who really knows how this ad arrived?
If I learned anything in my career and life, if the strategy is not good then everything will fail. Design cannot save failed content, and failed content is a failed strategy.
Someone recently complimented me after I told them about how I was grown, “I guess this explains fully why you’re such a rounded out professional and team player?” They also said, “I am sure your upbringing shaped you in many ways that influenced who you choose to interact with. What came first, the chicken or the egg?”
The type of home I grew up in presented my parents as exemplars of diversity and inclusion. My sister and I did not have the male role, female role setup, we had a do it because it is there to be done model, and sometimes it’s whoever is best for the task that does it, in regard to abilities and knowledge.
I like to think I am a rounded professional and team player, and it has to do with my upbringing. However, we are but humans, and we learn as we go…the professional space is mostly about interacting with people, we know what our functions are, so it’s mostly about communicating to each other what we need, and we need to be ok with accepting differences but also being able to articulate displeasure.
I cannot imagine an all-male or all-female team, it is not only quite boring, but the dynamics of having different thinking and perceptions, that contribute to critical thinking and innovation would be missing. Without criticism, there cannot be change, and we need the contrast of diversity and inclusion to question everything. Beauty is a harmonious relationship between contrasting contributors.
I do not want to imply that bad headlines won’t come from female CDs and copywriters…but, I would like to think that a woman in this specific industry in a leadership role would probably have said the Burger King (UK) headline is tone-deaf.
I repeat, the tweet did not fail because it lacked understanding of social media or Twitter…it failed because the print headline failed. The print headline failed not because Burger King (UK) is against women, but because they were probably going for an award-winning headline instead of a good headline.
Now, about the chicken and the egg…the answers are varying amounts and depend on the information you have or perspective you take.
Evolution dictates that the egg is older, thus it came first…but that’s a complex answer. A common and very poorly understood existence of the Red Jungle Fowl, a prehistoric bird that is said to have hatched from a softer shell egg via protein and evolutionary development. If we go with the modern-day, domesticated fowl, the egg still came first, but again that’s a complex answer.
The creationist would say the chicken came first, based on the belief that animals were created and reproduced.
What about the rooster…
The common metaphor made possible by Darwinian principle, aka, the common more popular question of which came first could be attributed to the circular feedback loop process — an action is done, and it receives a response, this response or behaviour is observed, and analyzed, which ultimately induces another action, but the new action is changed based on the observed response — which dictates that it matters not which came first if the supply chain is consistent quality.
Contextualized to my upbringing, I would say, my mindset and actions, whatever I have put out into the world makes me attractive enough and inviting to others, but they were already there, and so was I.
My point of all this is simple, as people, as brands, communication is important, how we do this either makes us appealing or pariahs of society. Whether in our thinking, or teamwork processing, we are only as great as the people we have around us, and the more diverse and inclusive these people are, the wider the perspective. The deeper the thinking, and hopefully, the more elevated the quality of the work.
In all cases, men or women, these people must be qualified.
What the Burger King’s (UK) headline should have been if we are going for savvy and witty, came afterward from Hunt, Gather, supported by a positioning statement — “We’re tired of being told our place is in the kitchen so we created some cool shit to fight sexism. All proceeds go to Girls Empowerment Network.” — ‘Women belong everywhere’ under the URL burger-queen.com.
While many of us share our displeasure with Burger King’s (UK) Women’s Day headline, let’s not write them off, instead, let’s hope they can truly do better. The apology they sent out was also not received well…but as I said, it’s not easy to manage brands, mistakes are made, will be made. It is important for the brand to own those mistakes, and even though a tough ball to catch, focus on being more aligned, more aware. Sometimes the wrong people are in the right positions, naturally, the brand is held responsible, which is right.
I must point out as a statement to our subjectivity as a society, McDonald’s and its “tolerance over race” campaign. It’s not that different from the Burger King Women’s Day campaign, but timing, and perhaps, the topic of women and the history of what women were valued at as members of society, caused the campaign to hit a sore nerve.
The leading fast-food franchise has developed a recruitment campaign, highlighting the offensive statements. The real goal of the recruitment campaign was different, but it made the world talk about it.
That said, be gentle with brands.