Burger King pulls chopsticks ad after social media backlash

Burger King is under fire for an ad which depicts diners eating an Asian-style burger with giant chopsticks. Experts say the clip is another example of a brand missing the mark while trying to stay relevant.
Burger King is under fire for an ad which depicts diners eating an Asian-style burger with giant chopsticks. Experts say the clip is another example of a brand missing the mark while trying to stay relevant.PHOTO: BURGERKINGNZ/ INSTAGRAM

WASHINGTON • Burger King wanted to promote a burger inspired by Asian flavours, but quickly learnt that chopsticks were not the way to go.

The fast-food chain's video clip showed diners clumsily trying to eat its new Vietnamese Sweet Chilli Tendercrisp burgers with giant red chopsticks.

The clip included a caption reading "Take your taste buds all the way to Ho Chi Minh City".

The ad, posted on the company's New Zealand Instagram account, sparked a social media backlash and complaints of cultural insensitivity.

Burger King deleted the video and issued an apology. "The ad in question is insensitive and does not reflect our brand values regarding diversity and inclusion," it said in a statement to Reuters.

Experts say the incident is just the latest example of a company missing the mark while trying to become more relevant to its customers. It also speaks to social media's increasing effectiveness in policing such missteps.

The ad gained attention after Ms Maria Mo, a New Zealander of Korean descent, mocked Burger King in a viral Twitter thread, writing that "chopsticks r hilarious" and that "Orientalism is harmless funnnn".

Ms Mo told The Washington Post that when she first saw the clip, she initially thought she was missing the point. She could not believe anyone would run such an ad in 2019 or that it could be approved by a company as dominant as Burger King.

But it was no surprise, Ms Mo said, that people of colour must contend with constant micro-aggressions.

In her tweets, Ms Mo wrote of the importance of fighting the different manifestations of racism, from "the kind that makes fun of different cultures, to the kind that shoots and murders those peacefully praying in their place of worship."

Last month, a gunman killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The ad played on widespread Asian stereotypes, Ms Mo said, "as though their thought process went, 'what's Asian? Chopsticks!'"

But even the burger missed the mark, Ms Mo said, because sweet chilli sauce is more common in Thai cuisine than Vietnamese.

Another one of Burger King's Japanese-branded chicken burgers was described as "tonkatsu", which translates to fried pork.

Other companies have come under similar scrutiny about perceived racial insensitivity.

Last year, Dolce & Gabbana released an ad in China to promote a Shanghai runway show. Three short clips showed an Asian woman dressed in Dolce & Gabbana struggling to eat pizza, spaghetti and a cannoli with chopsticks.

Dolce & Gabbana removed the videos from Chinese social media 24 hours after posting them, according to NPR.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Burger King pulls chopsticks ad after social media backlash'. Print Edition | Subscribe