Burger King's Snuffed-Out Stunt

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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.

Other tasty Foolishness:

Jack in the Box is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt recommendation. Microsoft and Jack in the Box are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Marvel Entertainment is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days, and get the inside scoop on how Foolish investors are helping each other beat the market.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz lives in Burger King's hometown of Miami, and hits "the BK lounge" often. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2009, at 3:53 PM, WomenCertified wrote:

    I'm not certain BK gets all the blame for flubbing this one. Facebook had to know what they were going to do with the application. Dumping friends regardless of the closeness, especially women friends, is risky business, but to do it publicly is insanity. As soon as I heard they were going to post the de-friendings, I knew this was doomed to failure. I just find it interesting how they managed to save face for everybody by claiming that they've suddenly recognized the privacy interests of their users and put a happy face on their solution. It was another FB mistake but nobody is admitting it. Crispin and BK are throwing a lot of stuff at the wall these days. This one didn't stick at all.

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