Burger King preps workarounds after Google shuts down Assistant-activating ad

Dive Brief:

  • Late last week, Burger King released a 15-second "Connected Whopper" spot that automatically triggered Google Assistant in devices like Google Home and Android phones. While Google seemed to immediately shut down the ad's functionality, the fast food chain apparently had a series of similar ads in the hopper to act as workarounds, according to a report in Ad Age.
  • A second version of the ad ran during "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and was reportedly successful in triggering Assistants. The goal of the ad is to get Google devices to read from a Wikipedia entry describing the Whopper. 
  • Though this concept sounds clever on paper, the ads activate devices without users' permissions, causing frustrations that Google likely sought to temper. The Verge also pointed out that internet trolls were quick to edit the Whopper's Wikipedia page to include incredibly inappropriate descriptors that could land both Google and Burger King in hot water. 

Dive Insight:

It's not really clear what Burger King is going for with its repeated efforts here other than to generate some brand buzz in a particularly bratty manner. Google learned the hard way that Home users don't like intrusive ads when it ran unwanted promotions for Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast" movie last month as part of its My Day feature.

The negative social media backlash was immediate, causing Google to release a statement clarifying its intentions, but Burger King seems to have either missed the memo or is willfully ignoring it. 

Beyond being intrusive, the "Connected Whopper" spots are susceptible to becoming a PR fiasco on all sides of the aisle. Last year, Microsoft opened up a Twitter chatbot named "Tay" to users, which was quickly overrun by racist trolls; it's not hard to imagine the Whopper Wikipedia page turning into a similar battleground, though The Verge reported Wikipedia has had administrators clamp down on the entry, meaning Burger King's created a headache for another company on top of Google. 

Home digital assistants are still something of a black box for marketers. They are an intriguing new way to reach an audience in a highly personal setting, and also offer a potential gold mine for consumer data. But, similar to smartphones, the personal, private nature of the devices will require a careful navigation of messaging in order to reach an audience how they want to be reached — presumably with their approval.

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