Marketing can tap into humor or into social responsibility, but trying to do both at once can be tricky, if not downright treacherous.
Burger King is touting mental health awareness while taunting its archrival by launching “unhappy meals”—a jab at McDonald’s Happy Meal line. BK says customers should be allowed to feel however they choose.
The tongue-in-cheek offerings have a serious tie-in with Mental Health Awareness Month, and Burger King hopes the campaign will do more than just sell burgers and fries.
Burger King has launched a range of burger meals that focus on “real” moods.
The fast-food chain introduced a range of boxed deals it’s calling “Real Meals,” including the Pissed Meal, Blue Meal, Salty Meal, Yaaas Meal and DGAF (Don’t Give a F—) Meal as part of Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The deal includes a Whopper sandwich, french fries and a drink.
“Burger King restaurants understands that no one is happy all the time. That’s why they’re asking guests to order a Whopper meal based on however they might be feeling,” an online release stated Wednesday.
As well as raising awareness of mental health issues, the meal range also pokes fun at McDonald’s Happy Meals, boxed kids’ deals that include a toy. Burger King launched an ad showing a montage of people in various emotional states, using the line: “No one is happy all the time. And that’s OK.”
The move conveys the risks brands are willing to take to be relatable to their target audience.
“We see [quick serve restaurants] increasingly taking marketing risks to find cultural relevance and claim attention across social media spheres, especially in response to moves from their competitors,” Corey Chafin, principal in the consumer and retail practice of A.T. Kearney, tells Fortune via email.
“From Dunkin Donuts’ recent cheeky reaction to the McDonald’s release of Donut Sticks to Wendy’s well-known social media boldness, Burger King’s provocative Real Meals promotion only adds to this list.”
… “Critically important is that these messages are executed carefully and authentically,” Chafin said. “Though potentially controversial, a positive reception is typically achieved, especially among millennials who are increasingly seeking relevant values-based brands rather than an exclusive focus on value.”
The campaign includes a video ad that straddles the line between tasteful and cheeky.
— Burger King (@BurgerKing) May 1, 2019
Burger King has sought to develop a social media brand image, with false starts along the way.
Burger King has been working on establishing a faux-human Twitter presence for some time. The day before #FeelYourWay launched, it tweeted, “how’s everyone feeling?” In early April, Burger King invited its followers to “pour one out for google plus,” the failed Google social network. A few weeks later, the account tweeted, simply, “yeet.” (A reference to a Vine dance challenge from five years ago.)
On social media, many have ripped BK’s attempts to use mental health issues to sell burgers.
Brands: [consistently get in trouble for tweeting about mental illness]
Burger King: DO YOU EVER FEEL SAD
— sarah schauer 🦂 (@SJSchauer) May 2, 2019
health insurance becoming more expensive because you indicated you were predisposed to depression by buying the sad burger king meal
— Jack Koloskus (@koloskus) May 2, 2019
Just punched a hole in my wall thinking about all the money I could have saved last year by just having Burger King instead of having to go to the psychiatric hospital
— Your Grace (@GraceSpelman) May 2, 2019
PATIENT: I wish I was happy all the time but I am not
DOCTOR: have you tried enjoying an affordable burger
PATIENT: but doctor…I am the Burger King
— “waterslide attorney” keith wemple is a WIFE THIEF (@KrangTNelson) May 2, 2019
Some Twitter users have criticized how Burger King is tackling the issue, arguing the brand could do more to direct viewers to resources like crisis hotlines.
So I guess I want to ask @BurgerKing is what they're doing for the mental health of their employees. Are they getting access to free/low-cost counseling? Is there healthcare? A living wage? A clear channel to report harassment? Paid sick leave? Or just boxes for the 'gram? https://t.co/QyX8ilaf5k
— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) May 2, 2019
And it is FINE to feel the way you feel and to have utter garbage brain days, but if companies want to wade into this pond on a big corporate-ass level, PONY UP with re$ources. Be brave enough to put @CrisisTextLine or @TrevorProject info on the box. Do something USEFUL.
— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) May 2, 2019
However, some see Burger King’s contribution as helpful.
Mental Health America’s president and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo, however, praised Burger King in a statement, noting the company was “bringing much-needed awareness to this important and critical discussion – and letting its customers know that [it] is OK to not be OK.”
Burger King isn’t blazing a trail in talking about mental health while trying to sell a product.
To be fair — if we really need to be “fair” to massive corporations and the advertising agencies they employ (in this case, the Boston-based MullenLowe) — Burger King is not the first brand to use depression, millennial anxiety, or general malaise to sell food. Tons of brands speak in the first person on the internet now, often to express enthusiasm or disappointment or generalized awe that Beyoncé still exists and is releasing work. Denny’s Diner has been using this strategy on Twitter for several years, and literally tweeted “we’re not just a diner, we’re also your buddy,” earlier this year.
In September 2018, the frozen steak brand Steak Umms made waves with a tweet storm that started, “why are so many young people flocking to brands on social media for love, guidance, and attention? I’ll tell you why. they’re isolated from real communities, working service jobs they hate while barely making ends meat, and are living w/ unchecked personal/mental health problems.”
However, many media outlets have given Burger King a pass in reporting on its offering.
Despite the fact that human feeling is not a meme, the press has, for the most part, covered the Burger King promotion with nothing but good faith and credulity. AdWeek opens its coverage with a prolonged meditation on the relationship between comfort food and depression, eventually revealing that “#FeelYourWay is designed to help destigmatize conversations around mental health.” “Burger King ‘Unhappy Meals’ Capture All The Feels From Pissed to Yaaas,” writes Newsweek. The Today Show refers to Burger King’s Unhappy Meals as “a new line of meal boxes that honor a full range of human emotions.”
Being able to tap into consumer emotions is an essential talent for communicators, but it remains paramount that brands can demonstrate authenticity when creating messaging about issues that matter to consumers.
One convincing way to add credibility to your campaign is to find a partner with experience and expertise on your target issue. Burger King has done just that.
NBC News reported:
Burger King has partnered with Mental Health America for the campaign, and its president and chief executive, Paul Gionfriddo, said: “While not everyone would think about pairing fast food and mental health, MHA believes in elevating the conversation in all communities in order to address mental illness Before Stage 4 (when someone has severe symptoms).”
“By using its internationally known reputation to discuss the importance of mental health, Burger King is bringing much-needed awareness to this important and critical discussion — and letting its customers know that is OK to not be OK.”
No matter whom you partner with, brand managers should prepare for criticism from the Twitter peanut gallery. After all, the penchant for negativity on social media is why mental health is such a powerful topic of conversation these days.
What do you think of Burger King’s campaign?