**OBLIGATORY ADV ETHICS POST**
Usually, it is difficult for me to describe what I find holistically objectionable, but in cases where people who have very little voice on the world advertising stage are being exploited for the purpose of marketing gain, I draw the line. One example of this type of misuse of underrepresented culture groups is the Burger King “Whopper Virgins” documentary and advertising campaign. The documentary features a taste test of the Whopper against McDonald’s Big Mac by people in remote parts of the world who had never tasted a hamburger before. In fact, the people in the study from Greenland, Thailand, and Romania had never been exposed to advertising, did not own a television, and were often from areas were poverty and hunger was an issue. As such, my ethical qualms about the project are the utilization and misappropriation of the cultures of people below the poverty level, the false depiction of these people’s opinions as a basis for Americans to purchase Burger King’s products, and the evident imposition of American culture on these groups. Furthermore, after doing some research on the conditions surrounding the project, I was not surprised to find that some of my sentiments were being echoed around the world as well.
As a creative in advertising, I can easily conjure the thought-process behind developing such a campaign. It is increasingly difficult to break through the clutter in the fast food industry, especially for Burger King, who has constantly fallen in second place behind McDonalds. Though the concept of doing a taste test with people who have never tasted a burger, and who have never been exposed to advertising, is novel, I believe that those implementing this campaign did not fully consider the ramifications of targeting people who had not been exposed to fast food or its advertising. Because these people have not been exposed to the advertising format for fast food (let alone any other kinds of ads), they most likely had no idea to what extent their images would be used to sell the brand that they tasted for. In my opinion, no amount of disclaimers, warnings, or release forms could properly explain to someone who has no television that their image would be in the homes of millions of people across America, advertising for a product they have only tasted once.
Additionally Fast food has become a globalized product that, though originally American, has branched out to almost all industrialized areas of the world. Though in America, having a Burger King or McDonalds in your backyard doesn’t mark an area of influence, having a fast food restaurant in many countries is considered a marker of development (Bergold Jr, 2011). As such, selecting areas that lack the influence of these restaurants is a sign that these areas are not as monetarily rich as other areas. Holtz- Giminez of Good Morning America stated that “30 percent of the people [in the study] live in poverty and would never be able to afford a hamburger” (Alfonsi, S, 2008), a startling fact that makes me question the ethics of utilizing people who, in essence, cannot afford to turn down the opportunity for food.
That being said, a lack of monetary wealth in no way means that the groups utilized in this taste test were devoid of culture. It was apparent from the taste-tester’s garbs that these people were rich in heritage. The issue I take in utilizing these people is the misappropriation of the cultures apparent in the 30-second commercials that ran in the United States, proclaiming that burger virgins preferred Whoppers to Big Macs. These taste-testers were completely dressed in their most traditional garb (which was not normally worn in their home villages). Though much of this traditional clothing was colorful and beautiful, it stands in stark contrast to the business casual clothes worn by the researchers, and seems to signify to the ignorant viewer that the taste-testers were exhibited a certain sense of foreignness, when the researchers were the ones that were in fact, foreign to their lands. Somehow, the scenes and the title of “Whopper Virgins” gave the taste-testers a sense of naivety that makes it seem that it is the subjects’ difference or uniqueness that is being tested, rather than the burgers. Though the overall purpose of the commercials and the documentary is to say that the Whopper is preferred more times than the Big Mac, the focus of each commercial becomes the oddity of these people and their cultures, a feature I find both disturbing and immoral. Many of the commercials hardly give context as to why these people are dressed a certain way and gives no additional information about these people’s cultures. When I first viewed the spots without knowing about the documentary film, I believed that it was a factitious and hyperbolic exaggeration, and not a “scientific” study.
Given that the study was scientific and conducted by third party researchers, Burger King did a poor job of portraying the results of these findings accurately to the American public, who may have been influenced to purchase Whoppers over Big Macs because the commercials. In the commercials, it is simply stated that more taste-testers preferred the Whopper to the Big Mac in taste tests by people who have never had a burger. It is not, however, explained that though this is the case, many of the people interviewed had no preference, and the majority of the people who preferred the Whopper still did not like the Whopper, because it was completely different from the types of food they ate normally. Though admittedly that would be difficult to say in a: 30 second spot, it sends the message to consumers that the Whopper is universally delicious to all consumers, even those who have not eaten a burger before, which is far from the truth. Added with the fact that some of the people who were administered the tests were from poorer economic areas only solidify my ethical concerns about the methods used to evaluate and describe the taste of the Whopper to American consumers.
Finally, one of the distinctive parts of the documentary that is not included in the video is that the researchers visited the villages of each taste-tester, Burger King Broiler in tow, and made burgers for their entire village. Though there was as sense of cultural exchange present (in that the researchers also tried the villagers food as well), I find that because the reason that this documentary was made was to ultimately sell burgers, the pretenses of this visit were not pure. In fact, I see them almost as a means of imposing American culture upon these people who have, for various reasons, been resistant to cultural change.
When considering the campaign as a whole, and deciding how I would modify it to make it less ethically questionable, I would first consider if utilizing people from cultures who have no exposure to advertising is an ethically sound thing to do, and then consider conducting a fictional taste test that is completely hyperbolic, yet portrays realistic American subcultures. I think doing a humorous spot that plays on popular subcultures within America, like different fan groups, could be just as effective and could even include a supplementary “documentary” the same way this campaign does. Additionally, if the advertising team deemed that using different cultural groups was ethical, I would suggest that only the documentary was created, and not the commercials. As I said before, the commercials misrepresent the cultures and opinions of the people they depict, and could lead Americans to buy a product on false pretenses.