In honor of International Women’s Day today, Burger King’s UK Twitter account, @BurgerKingUK, tweeted a ‘joke’ that “Women belong in the kitchen,” as a way to encourage female employees to pursue a culinary career.
Understandably so, this tweet went viral almost instantaneously, receiving backlash in regard to their insensitivity towards centuries of sexism and oppression.
The fast-food giant followed up their original Tweet with two more Tweets in a thread, that many Twitter users assume is damage control, saying, “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career.” They continued, “We are proud to be launching a new scholarship programme which will help female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams!”
In a way, their misogynistic marketing tactic worked. It bolstered massive attention to their business and landed them a top spot among Twitter’s ‘Trending’ page. However, the discourse revolved more around criticism for the original Tweet, and less around the announcement of their new scholarship program.
One Twitter user wrote, “We all take risks. For some of us it’s eating at Burger King. For others it’s this tweet.”
Another wrote, “I get that you were using this comment as bait for a larger conversation to actually empower women. But listen to all the women telling you that using a sexist comment as bait isn’t cool.”
Someone else commented, “This is the worst PR move of all time HAHAHA.”
Many Twitter users in the replies argued that their intentions to draw attention to the social, cultural, economic and political achievements and progression of women were positive, but that the execution was a disaster. The original Tweet has racked up hundreds of thousands of retweets and likes, whereas the intended message and announcement that followed have only received a fraction of the engagement.
Despite Burger King’s failed attempt at a bold marketing approach and the criticism they received, they have chosen to stand by their actions. BK replied to one Twitter user saying, “Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry, we thought you’d be on board with this as well? We’ve launched a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career.”
This isn’t the first time the chain has found itself caught in a PR crisis, such as airing a commercial starring Mary J. Blige that fed into racist stereotypes, or a Russian ad that offered a lifetime supply of Whoppers for women who got pregnant to World Cup players, or the time when a woman bit into a burger that contained razor blades, and so on and so on.
The PR massacre Burger King found its way into this time once again serves as a reminder to know your brand and your audience. Unlike competing fast-food chain, Wendy’s whose Twitter account is known for their daring content, Burger King doesn’t have the brand image to pull off this approach. It was a failed attempt at going outside of the box, however considering that it did in fact draw attention to the brand it begs the question, “Is all publicity really good publicity?”
Lauryn Bayley is a public relations and content development intern at Flackable, an award-winning public relations agency representing financial and professional services brands nationwide. To learn more about Flackable, please visit flackable.com. Follow Lauryn on Twitter at @LaurynBayleyPR.