Last night, Burger King released the full version of their Whopper Virgins documentary they’ve been working on.  You might remember that a few days ago, I told people expressing outrage over the upcoming documentary to cram it, and lambasted critics for what I thought were ridiculous complaints about the campaign.  According to Adage, BK’s ad agency Crispin, Porter & Bogusky is not worried about the controversy – which is probably good, because columnists at Adweek, Adfreak and others have expressed their distaste for the campaign.  Well, now that the documentary has been released and I have viewed it, let me just say that I feel vindicated for my expressions of outrage against the lame whiners protesting this ad campaign.

Just as I had anticipated, the villagers in these towns in the far reaches of the world were incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to experience food from another culture.  Likewise, the film crews got a chance to sample local cuisine and learn about the cultures of the various places they were visiting.  The final documentary product had a very un-marketing feel to it. While they showed people expressing a preference for either the Whopper or the Big Mac in some cases, they never announced a tally, they never boasted about the Whopper winning 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 or whatever the final results may have been. Instead, the documentary focused more on the cultural experience of these individuals discovering, and learning how to eat a hamburger for the first time in their lives. Yeah, the goal is to draw attention to Burger King and sell more Whoppers, but my original defense of the advertising campaign from a few days ago stands.

The full video from the website can be viewed below:

6 Responses

  1. Tim Maly

    I feel the same way. There must be tonnes of great footage on the cutting room floor. It could have been a great real documentary

  2. moon
    Honestly, I don’t get where the film’s critics are coming from, I thought it was fascinating. I watched a story about it on CBS this morning, and one of the critics was blasting them for doing this in “impoverished” areas, it didn’t strike me that way, they were an entirely different culture, a culture *we’re* not familiar with either, obviously rural cultures as opposed to city cultures. What we call rural in America takes on a whole different meaning in Europe and Asia, we have big ol pickups and tractors in our rural picture, and happy farmers with the latest equipment and electricity milking cows in a sterile environment, we just don’t relate to rural in the way that Europeans and Asians do. A representative from Burger King responded that these people were in no way starving, that food was abundant in the locations where they filmed this, and they were very careful to make sure that they were going to locations where food was abundant and the people were healthy and happy in their cultural context. While Americans would look at their surroundings and consider that if an American lived that way, we would consider such an American to be “impoverished” by our standards, an American would look at a culture like that and liken it to some remote hollers in Appalachia, and Americans consider such rustic types to be impoverished when they are not necessarily. As near as I can tell, these folks aren’t any more “impoverished” than Amish farmers, but we have a bias concerning things like living without electricity and department stores. That is a reflection of our arrogance and our spoiled American McMansion lifestyle to a point where even well meaning people have a blind spot. It really didn’t strike me as an attempt at comedy, either, or as poking fun at these people, but again it seems to me to be lodged in American blind spots. If this were a show on the National Geographic channel where scientific types go out to study a tribal society, and expose the members of the tribe to cultural artifacts such as watches or Tupperware, the same folks who are blasting this idea would probably find it interesting as a scientific study, as opposed to a commercial, and would less likely have looked at it as “exploiting” these people if it were an actual documentary instead of a commercial. The point they would be missing then is that the whole point of the show would be to sell air time for the sponsors who sponsor the show, it’s still there to sell stuff, if you put Burger King on it, or National Geographic, yet it’s somehow more “pure” if you sandwich the sponsor’s commercials between segments of the “legitimate” show. I don’t understand the hoohaw over the term Whopper Virgin either, the term Virgin has been used as slang in our culture for some time now to signify someone who has never done (insert activity), and no longer used just as a descriptive of someone who has never had sex. I found the cultural exchange of offering a town a burger party, then the town turns around and offers a cultural exchange of their local dishes looked like fun to me. I also liked that they showed all the responses, no matter what was picked, obviously the Whopper was in the lead, but there were plenty of responses of Big Mac or no preference shown, not just editing it to look like every one said Whopper Whopper Whopper, one guy would rather have seal meat, thank you very much, and I imagine the testers tried seal as well. What’s with these people carrying on like Burger King is out to get all these people addicted to American burgers like it’s cocaine or something, or they intend to over run the area with Burger Kings in the future? I didn’t see anything of the sort in the film, it was a taste test, a one shot deal on people who have never been exposed to marketing, and based on the idea that given a choice between the two, people who never tried a burger before might pick one over the other based on the taste alone with no pre-conceived ideas from television. I think folks are getting way carried away by it, honestly.

  3. patrick

    It’s a taste test but who cares about the winner in this contest. The Whopper Virgins idea is the most authentic piece of advertising I’ve seen in awhile and by far the most interesting idea ever to come out of burger culture.

    There’s been a lot of negative comments about this campaign ranging from “Those poor people. I bet their stomachs exploded soon after eating those things and woke up the next day craving hamburgers. Thumbs down for CP+B.” to “Why don’t they bring along a little smallpox while they’re at it…”

    This campaign isn’t about taking advantage of third world cultures or some bizarre global expansion strategy. It’s not even about taste! It’s about 1 thing: Making Burger King relevant again by getting people talking about it. In this they have succeeded based on all of the noise in the media about it.

    But for me, the real genius of this is how it introduces the idea of discovery and understanding through authentic cultural exchange. Not only did BK take our culture to other parts of the world, they are allowing us peak into cultures many of us aren’t familiar with even though it’s just a commercial. American society is so preoccupied with itself that we’re oblivious to just about every other culture on the planet. We often believe that everyone is just like us. And why not? We’re the greatest aren’t we?

    For better or worse this piece forces us to look at ourselves and take stock in what kind of culture we’ve created (or forced onto other parts of the world). It forces us to think about how other people may view our culture and just how foreign we can appear in a different context. These individuals should look curious and confused just like we would be if we were eating seal meat for the first time. I don’t think it’s meant to exploit them, rather to hold up a different mirror to our culture. But the underlying point is we need to be aware and open others so that we can have a better understanding of our neighbors whether they live next door or live on another continent. It’s everything Obama’s been saying!

    Part of this “exchange idea” comes through during the Thailand scene when they show the Americans dining on the other cultures food. They even give you a nice close up of the dish that would typically be reserved for the “product as hero” sequence of a typical commercial. Everybody is sharing and it’s a two way street. I especially like the last interview and the gentleman revealing he “likes seal meat better.” It’s a great ending and more importantly it’s real.

    So thumbs up to Crispin Porter + Bogusky for letting us have it our way and showing us that other folks may like something different.


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