Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Burger King
Where: United Kingdom
When: 2 October 2019
Law stated as at: 29 October 2019
The ASA has ruled that a Burger King tweet, following the “milkshaking” of the Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, was irresponsible and condoned antisocial behaviour. Milkshaking is a recent political protest practice involving members of the public throwing milkshakes at right-wing political figures. The incident occurred as Mr Farage arrived in Newcastle to campaign ahead of the European elections in May. The disturbance prompted a branch of McDonald’s in Edinburgh to decide not to sell milkshakes as Mr. Farage was due to make another appearance at a nearby rally. In response to this decision, Burger posted the following tweet on Burger King’s Twitter page: “Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK.”
The tweet, which was retweeted 14,900 times, garnered 24 complaints to the ASA from people who thought it encouraged violence and anti-social behaviour, prompting Burger King to issue a follow-up tweet stating that it would “never endorse violence – or wasting our delicious milkshakes! So enjoy the weekend and drink responsibly people.”
Despite acknowledging that the tweet was intended to be a humorous response to its competitor’s suspension of milkshake sales, the ASA found that the tweet would be understood as suggesting that Burger King’s milkshakes could be used to milkshake Nigel Farage. As such, the ASA considered that the ad condoned previous anti-social behaviour and encouraged further instances.
The ad was therefore banned, although perhaps Burger King had the last laugh, given the free publicity this ruling has generated, and that the offending tweet ordered to be removed by the ASA was already four-and-a-half-months-old.
Why this matters:
“Newsjacking” – a practice whereby brands use news event to promote their products – has become a popular way for brands to organically generate hype and buzz around major news event.
While the newsjacking tweets that brands send out are usually humorous or tongue-in-cheek, this ruling shows the difficulties that can be faced when humour does not always translate easily online. In particular, marketers should remind themselves that they are far more likely to receive complaints when the ad content refers to a polemic issue (such as Brexit).