Google Disabled Burger King’s Ad Hijacking Google Home, but BK Got Around That Too

Spot aired on Fallon and Kimmel, and did trigger devices

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Burger King’s latest ad stunt—in which a TV spot was designed to hijack people’s Google Home devices by saying “OK, Google” and asking about the Whopper—turned into a game of cat and mouse on Wednesday, as Google blocked the ad from triggering the devices and BK quickly devised a workaround.

The saga began at noon Wednesday, as BK rolled out the 15-second spot on YouTube. In it, an actor playing a BK employee says to the camera, “OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This triggered Google Homes in viewers’ houses to rattle off the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry about the Whopper.

The plan was to let the ad generate buzz throughout the day, and then air it Wednesday night in New York, Miami and Los Angeles during The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Almost immediately, the stunt began to veer off course (though from BK’s perspective, it may well have gone exactly as planned all along). In the first wrinkle, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise, people began editing the Wikipedia entry to alter the list of ingredients—at one point it said the Whopper was made with “100% medium-sized child” as well as cyanide.

Others edited the entry to talk glowingly about the Whopper—including one user, Fermachado123, whose handle resembles the name of Fernando Machado, Burger King’s senior vp for global brand management, as the Washington Post pointed out.

Then, a few hours after the spot broke, it stopped triggering the Google Home devices altogether, as Google—which was not involved in the campaign—apparently took a dim view of the stunt and disabled the ad from working. (Google has not confirmed this publicly, and did not respond to Adweek’s request for comment.)

Burger King appeared ready for this obstacle, however, telling Adweek in the middle of the evening on Wednesday to tune into Fallon and Kimmel anyway to see what would happen. As it turned out, BK created a revised version of the spot, which Google Homes were not prepared to block, and aired it on those shows. This new version did indeed trigger people’s devices.

It’s pretty remarkable that BK not only had a plan to hijack Google Homes, but also had a plan for when Google objected to it. Indeed, the whole stunt has raised concerns about the unauthorized hacking of voice-activated devices in an age when they are becoming more and more prevalent.

Plenty of consumers were clearly angry about the whole concept, whether it affected them or not—BK’s YouTube video has more than 10,000 dislikes, versus 7,000 likes. “My google home went nuts after this,” wrote one commenter. “I want my money back.”

Yet many other viewers were amused by it, and the stunt quickly became a trending topic across social media on Wednesday, generating lots of awareness for the brand.

In the end, the burger chain clearly felt it was worth the risk of angering some people, and intruding into their homes, for a bit of attention. And as a one-off, it is relatively harmless. But just wait until other brands with a lot less to lose hop on board with this. Can you say, “OK, Google, turn off the TV”?

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.