Sometimes even The King can get his crown knocked off.
An edgy Burger King (NYSE: BKC ) application on Facebook is now disabled for new users. Whopper Sacrifice rolled out last week, an app that rewards users with a free sandwich if they publicly delete 10 of their friends.
The problem here is that unlike the quiet "de-friending" process on Facebook, the 10 deletions showed up as being "sacrificed" on the social-networking site for all to see.
This had all of the makings of a marketing stunt going too far, and everyone knew it.
"It may sound clever, but you know it's going to ruffle a few feathers in the Facebook community," I wrote last week. "The site also is unlikely to appreciate seeing its viral networks shrink in the pursuit of a burger."
"BK's shenanigans on Facebook are more likely to backfire," fellow Fool Anders Bylund rightfully predicted. "They arguably undermine the whole idea of Facebook marketing as a constructive viral force, turning it destructive instead."
Burger King has been on the cutting edge of marketing for a few years now. In a wholesome niche where McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) gives us a peppy clown and Wendy's (NYSE: WEN ) serves up a cheery redhead in pigtails, BK gives us the creepy King with a penchant for accosting passersby to put money back into their pockets, streaking across a football field, or appearing seemingly naked on a bearskin rug to promote a ridiculous burger-scented fragrance.
Jack in the Box (NYSE: JBX ) may have raised the bar a decade ago with its round-headed clown mascot as CEO, but Burger King has taken even more chances in appealing to a younger audience.
It's a shame this time, because Burger King was tapping a viral hit. 82,711 Facebook users added Whopper Sacrifice to their pages before the social-networking site shut it down. Site watcher Inside Facebook claims that more than 230,000 friends were sacrificed.
The math is telling. If it takes 10 cuts to land a free Whopper, why did the average user wind up whacking less than three friends? The answer, naturally, is that all but roughly a quarter of the application users got cold feet. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of inspiring ill will among the Facebook community, it got people talking about Burger King and the esteemed value of a Whopper without a lavish marketing campaign.
It turned heads, though not as brilliantly as when it landed a choice burger product placement in Marvel's (NYSE: MVL ) Iron Man last year. Even hooking up with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) for a series of Xbox games two years ago was a low-risk, high-reward move.
No one wants to see BK lose its edge, but given the creepy plastic mug on the guy, it wouldn't be so bad to see him lose his head.
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