Any publicity is good publicity
A few months ago, a TV reporter came under fire for saying "Alexa, get me a doll's house" and inadvertently activating Alexa boxes in viewers' homes. Someone at Burger King thought that was a great idea and tried a similar ploy with Google Home gadgets when it ran a fifteen second TV advert stateside.
If you watch this video of the advert, you will see that an actor portraying a Burger King hamburger flipper who says "You are watching a fifteen second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper Sandwich, but I got an idea", (he beckons the camera closer), "Okay Google, what is the Whopper Burger?".
It appears the intent of the ad is to hijack people's Android tablets and Google Home devices,(Google's answer to the Amazon Echo expected in the UK in the next month), and to trick those devices into reading the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper. How successful it was in activating an army of Google Home devices is unclear. Google Home, like Amazon's Echo, is trained to the voice of its user although training is intended to improve the accuracy of the interpretation rather than be a security feature, and tests have shown that the advert certainly could trigger the device. Perhaps there will be a rethink of voice assistant design in the wake of this episode, and that at the very least, the device wake word should be keyed to the voices of only the authorised users.
Public reaction to this stunt has been almost wholly negative. Within minutes of the ad airing, activists took to Wikipedia and changed the text to read "The Whopper is the worst hamburger product sold by the international fast-food restaurant chain Burger King" with others adding further details and embellishments such as saying it contained toe-nail clippings and was made from medium-sized child.
Burger King responded by editing in a more favourable entry and then getting Wikipedia to lock the page. The Wikipedia Foundation is not amused though as it specifically prohibits the online resource being used for advertising. Google was also caught by surprise by the ad but responded within hours by adding the advert's voice print to its blacklist for Google Home devices, so that the advert would no longer wake up the boxes.
Whilst some figures in the advertising industry complimented the ad on being innovative, others gave a more realistic assessment. David Carroll, associate professor of media design at the Parsons School of Design, said Burger King's approach was novel but will wear fast, and told CNN "There's a law of diminishing returns here. The more brands that do it the more it becomes totally irritating".
It is hard to believe that the marketing whiz-kids at Burger King didn't realise how people would react to this advert, how offended they would be by big business trying to commandeer a box inside their own homes. In fact, its likely Burger King knew exactly what they were doing and are delighted with the massive amount of discussion this has provoked about their brand on Twitter, taking the "any publicity is good publicity" route.
But is that adage true? United Airlines probably wouldn't agree with that sentiment right now. Following the well-publicised ejection incident on one of its planes at the start of the month, its mid-month refusal to let a group of girls travel unless they changed out of spandex leggings, and the more recent pushchair incident, the United Airlines consumer perception index dropped to a ten year low. The days when customer complaints could be swept under the carpet and corporate PR machines could paint companies as saints are long gone. Every customer service company needs to remember that these days, most customers carry cameras on their phones and are not afraid to use them, and every customer can take to Facebook and Twitter and reach just as many people as the PR agencies.
26th April 2017
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