NEW YORK Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice took a novel approach for an application: rather than encouraging people to socialize with friends, it encouraged them to cull unwanted connections from their friends list.
The catch: the application informed users' friends they had been "sacrificed" for a shot at a burger coupon.
Facebook, however, wasn't happy. It informed BK the application could not go against user expectations because Facebook explicitly says it will not inform users about friend removal. For the application to continue, Facebook's tech team disabled the broadcasting feature.
After it learned of the restrictions, BK pulled the plug on Whopper Sacrifice. In just a week, the application boasted 82,000 users and more than 230,000 friends removed.
BK provided this statement: "While Facebook was a great sport, they did ask for changes that would have resulted in a different approach to our application, counter to what we developed. Ultimately, based on philosophical differences, we decided to conclude the campaign and chose to 'sacrifice' the application."
Facebook came under criticism from some quarters for blowing a chance at currying favor with a big advertiser at a time when the company has yet to find an ad model that matches its explosive user growth. "There is no real privacy issue here, just a policy decision by Facebook that people shouldn't be notified when you remove them as a friend," Michael Arrington wrote at TechCrunch.
Facebook said it merely kept faith with its users.
"We encourage creativity from developers and companies using Facebook Platform, but we also must ensure that applications meet users' expectations," the company said in a statement. After constructive conversations with Burger King and the developer of the application, they have decided to conclude their campaign rather than continue with the restrictions we placed on their application."
The incident highlights an oddity of many brand efforts on Facebook: they often do not involve the company itself. The open nature of the Facebook platform allows any developer, including brands, to create an application for users. Facebook often works with brands on applications as part of larger ad buys. In this case, BK relied on viral distribution of Whopper Sacrifice and did not consult Facebook.
Despite the early end, Whopper Sacrifice was a smashing success by at least one measure: buzz. The short-lived effort resulted in stories in dozens of publications, including Gawker and Reuters, along with hundreds of posts on blogs and on Twitter.
BK is milking the mini-controversy for all its worth. WhopperSacrifice.com carries this notice: "Whopper Sacrifice has been Sacrificed. Facebook has disabled Whopper Sacrifice after your love for the Whopper sandwich proved to be stronger than 233,906 friendships."