Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice Campaign: Is friendship worth one-tenth of a Whopper?

The proverb 'A friend in need is a friend indeed' is one of the most known proverbs, however the Burger King has gave a new age mantra “A friend in need is a tenth of a Whopper”. In 2009, Burger King came up with an idea in collaboration with Facebook to sacrifice (or "un-friend") 10 of your Facebook friends and receive a free Whopper. Faced with the choice of food versus friends, more than 230,000 users were dumped for a burger within one week of the campaign.

This is proved to be a dangerous business for Facebook, and the social network ruled that showing the names of "sacrificed" friends in the user's wall was against its terms of usage. By then, Burger King had achieved a significant following on Facebook, widespread global press coverage and an increase in coupon redemption. Like most path breaking campaigns, Burger King's benefited from the ban, with fans of the burger chain criticising Facebook for banning Whopper sacrifice, however, this led to creation of a forum for people to express their thoughts on the future of advertising.

Burger King’s motive behind this campaign was two-fold. One, they wanted to improve daily users’ Facebook experience. Second, they wanted to attract customers to their premium Whopper burger. This campaign had incentives for both Burger King as well as the customer.

For customers, Burger King was giving a free Whopper burger for making their Facebook experience more enriching. The users refined their friend list which is very essential in today’s time. There are many Facebook accounts specially made to spam users’ wall. They are noise to the user and do not add any value to users’ experience. Due to these spam feeds, the user is certain to miss important feeds for which the user may be active on to social network.

Based on a research conducted by Cameron Marlow, average Facebook user interacted with only 5-10% of their Facebook friends. Marlow also states that one can maintain stable social relationships with about 150 people. Thus the campaign gave incentives to the users for the thing they already want to do. Burger King did not need to convince the users much to enrol on this campaign.

Burger King grabbed the benefits of the campaign with both hands. They got to sell their premium burger as customers revisit them to enjoy it even after the free coupon was redeemed. Also, this led to cross-selling of cold drinks, fries, etc. The effectiveness of the campaign was measured from the increase in Whopper sales, coupon redemption and increase in sales of side orders.

On the other hand, the question arises that “Is friendship is worth less than a Whopper”. The theme of Facebook is to evolve the social networking and create harmony among people where opportunity for a face to face communication is negligible. Burger king’s sacrifice campaign leads to negative human tendencies where people dumped their friends for sake of burger. From the business front, the value of Facebook is based on quantitative experience than qualitative experience which means that their revenue directly depend the number of friends user has. The current and perceived value of Facebook comes from the number of users and users that are connected as friends and relationships.

This campaign had tapped a real loop hole in the social media relationships. Today, a person boasts about the number of friends he/she has on Facebook or number of followers on Twitter. Number of friends in the Facebook application is the popularity index for many users. The definition of friendship has changed and users compete to ramp-up number of friends in a short span without any benefit other than personal satisfaction and ego.

A marketing campaign should be a win-win situation for both the parties however, in this unorthodox campaign, Facebook was losing out and Burger King was gaining more customers every week. Also, there could have been a possibility of manipulation by Facebook users where they can remove each other temporarily from their account and becoming friend again which ruins the whole idea of this campaigning.

Though the campaign had many positives for the end customer, Facebook banned the campaign citing privacy reasons for the users. This campaign divided people into two groups. First one feels that this ad campaign is brutal and shows the diminishing morality in the new generation and this brutality should be discouraged, however others argue that Facebook users add many people as friend whom they don’t know personally to increase their popularity index and cropping undesired people from their list is great when one get good incentive for that. Also, they believe that the campaign by Burger King is a bright idea and is the future of advertisement.

Tejas Chaudhari
Ashish Verma

Article originally published in IIM Indore Management Canvas

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