- A U.K. advertising watchdog has banned a tweet from Burger King, claiming the brand's communications were "irresponsible," The Guardian reported.
- On May 18, Burger King UK, the chain's official Twitter page for the region, posted a tweet that read, "Dear people of Scotland. We're selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK. #justsaying." At the time, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was set to make public appearances in the area. Farage had recently had milkshakes thrown at him as a form of political protest.
- Burger King claimed the tweet was meant to be humorous, and posted a follow-up message claiming it never endorses violence. The original tweet received 24 complaints, according to a press release by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which ruled that the ad could potentially encourage further "anti-social behaviour" and must never appear again in its current form.
Burger King's penchant for moving quickly to tackle relevant cultural moments might have stepped too far with the May milkshake tweet. The concept of "milkshaking," or pelting political opponents with milkshakes, has become more common as cultural divisions grow and activists seek forms of protest that skirt the lines of non-violence.
The milkshaking tactic is frequently deployed against far-right figures, especially members of UKIP, the party that helped to popularize the Brexit movement. Scots have strongly opposed Brexit, overwhelmingly voting to stay in the EU, CBS News reported.
While Burger King saw Farage's presence in Scotland as an opportunity to promote its brand in a timely fashion, it was also trying to get an edge on key rivals. McDonald's restaurant locations in Edinburgh ceased selling milkshakes and other ice cream based products during rallies where Farage made appearances, per the ASA.
"Although we acknowledged that the tweet may have been intended as a humorous response to the suspension of milkshake sales by the advertiser's competitor, in the context in which it appeared we considered it would be understood as suggesting that Burger King milkshakes could be used instead by people to 'milkshake' Nigel Farage," the ASA wrote in its ruling.
The controversial Twitter post came at a moment when brands are facing greater pressure to take brave stances, including by stepping into the realm of politics. Marketers must consider the risks inherent in this strategy, not only when it comes to consumer backlash, but also more serious penalties from watchdog groups like the ASA.
The ruling against Burger King is a rare case of the Whopper maker's disruptive approach to marketing backfiring. The brand has become well known in recent years for what executives deem "hackvertising," or jumping on trending discussions to appeal to consumers and ding competitors, often via digital channels.