New Burger King ad criticized as “culturally tone-deaf”

Advertising is all about generating buzz, and those ad whizzes at Burger King sure do have a knack for that. (See, for example, Burger King’s big-headed, stalker-ish “King” character for a prime example.)

Now their newest ad campaign, called “Whopper Virgins,” is drawing fire from a number of organizations as being exploitative and culturally insensitive. The new ads show people from some of the most remote parts of the globe– the Hmong tribe in Thailand, farmers from Transylvania in Romania, and the Inuit in Greenland– sampling Burger King’s Whopper and a Big Mac from McDonald’s for the first time, while a voiceover hails the experiment as “the world’s purest taste test.” The Whopper was apparently chosen “more often than not” over the Big Mac, according to the company. (In other words, “slightly more than half the time.”)

Burger King’s goal with the ad was to “see how the Whopper would perform in a world that didn’t have ad or marketing awareness or any sentimental attachments,” says Russ Klein, a Burger King exec.

But many others see the ad in a more sinister light. The blog Stereohyped criticized the ad in a post under the headline “Burger King Storms Innocent Villages to Plunder ‘Virgins,'” while Adweek’s Barbara Lippert called it “culturally tone-deaf.”

“What might irk people is the concept that Burger King is taking its fat-laden fast food to people who aren’t used to this stuff in their diets, who aren’t usually subject to our crass commercials, and who probably don’t really care too much,” a blogger a WalletPop wrote.

Personally, I have a hard time getting worked up over the ad. Seeing a Hmong tribesman munch on a Whopper is a pretty stomach-turning juxtaposition, I’ll admit, but it isn’t like this ad campaign is going to cause American fast food chains to suddenly flock to remote Thai villages. And Burger King, realizing the ad might be portrayed as controversial, seemingly took great pains to be gracious guests, as they donated school supplies, toys, and money to each of the places they visited.

So let’s everyone calm down about the ad. It’s a commercial, people.