Burger King: Apparently Not a Place for Queens on International Women's Day

Take platform nuances into consideration

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had an image that wasn’t one of Burger King’s tweets, but satirical social media.)

This International Women’s Day, women (and some men) cringed on the heels of misguided content from Burger King’s Twitter feed. 

The U.K. side of the businesses launched a tweet with no upfront context, leaving everyone dumbfounded. They followed the shocking one-liner with information about a scholarship program to help female Burger King employees pursue a culinary career. On one end, it’s powerful that the brand is helping to rightsize the disproportionate gender ratios in the restaurant industry. But on the other, it’s disappointing that a creative execution went out the door with, what seems to be, little remorse for the consequence. 

On a day that is meant to celebrate the achievements of women, Burger King played into stereotypes. They further perpetuated the stigmas that the women’s rights movement has for years tried to rightsize and build from. 

While people were surprised, they were not left speechless. Women replied, retweeted and shared the post with vehement hopes that it would be taken down and an apology issued. I myself tagged Fernando Machado, global CMO for Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International, with my disappointment. Machado has become known for the creative, award-winning work that he’s led at Burger King, so I was surprised that something like this could slip out under his watchful eye. While I did get a reply from him, I am not pleased with the answer and his stance of defending the campaign. 

Most people who are frustrated did in fact read all the additional copy—and it doesn’t make it any better. The digital execution on Twitter, and the print ad in the photo above, seems to prioritize a creative tension instead of the actual good the brand is intending to do. In values-led marketing, your end goal shouldn’t be making a headline. It should be actually helping the people you say you’re helping. 

As the day continued, the community-at-large was loud and consistent with requests (or rather demands) that Burger King apologize and take the trio of tweets down. The louder they became, virtual abuse followed. Demeaning, misogynistic, sexist and threatening messages flooded Twitter and my feed in defense of Burger King.

I had to turn my notification alerts off as the polarizing debate became hard to bear. Heated banter also arose questioning the fast-food chain’s level of commitment to the scholarship in relation to the advertising dollars. People were not convinced, as the marketing work seemed to outweigh the tangible benefits of the program. After many hours, the CMO replied that an apology would be issued, but there was no remorse for the request to take the post down. Instead, these seemed a selfish reason to keep it up—Burger King’s reputation was too fragile and couldn’t stand the recourse of added negative attention. 

Throughout my career, and I’m sure others can relate, I’ve launched, worked on, and done things that I regret. Here’s what stayed:

  • Build an inclusive team. Have inclusive and diverse representation at every level on your team. In this instance, a woman on the team could have pointed out the flaws in the execution and course corrected, pre-launch. 
  • Listen to the community that your message is for. Their reaction is the reaction. Don’t defend your post. Don’t argue. Listen.
  • Be ready to act quickly in times of crisis. Activate a cross-functional team of people so that you can make informed decisions. PR, social, marketing and leadership should be knee-deep in the conversation to understand the situation from all angles.
  • Don’t force creative executions into channels they weren’t intended for. Burger King’s full-page print ad cut even deeper when replicated into social. A separate approach, taking platform nuances into consideration, would have been to their benefit. 
  • While your intent may have been good, people will remember the impact. 

Burger King U.K. did eventually take the tweets down—in what seems like a Hail Mary attempt to assure women that Queens are welcome at Burger King.