Burger King's controversial Twitch tactics cause backlash
Quick Read

Burger King's controversial Twitch tactics cause backlash

This month, Burger King confused gamers with a guerrilla marketing campaign launched on leading streaming platform, Twitch

Burger King’s marketing tactics have become synonymous with those of the fast-food sector en masse, where cutting through can sometimes have unconventional results. Catalyst editor Morag Cuddeford-Jones even dubbed their ‘Burn that ad’ campaign as her favourite of 2019, where passers-by were encouraged to use Augmented Reality to ‘burn’ competitor’s ads. This offbeat attempt was the latest in a long tirade against McDonald’s and reflects the controversial – if a little chaotic – route that much of their advertising takes.

Their latest guerrilla marketing campaign is no exception. Last week their marketing agency, Ogilvy, landed themselves in hot water with gamers on leading streaming service, Twitch, when they flooded text-to-speech donations with advertisements for Burger King’s best offers, such as “a whopper and a small French fries for five dollars.”

An employee from Ogilvy’s DAVID Madrid team manually donated the cost of Burger King’s core products (at less than $5 per time) to streamers live on air. Twitch’s automated text-to-speech donation system, primarily used for fans to support their favourite content creators, would then read the advertisements aloud to the streamer and their audience. Their reactions – or at least the ones that were deemed safe to share – were then captured in something of a highlight reel, posted to their Twitter account to showcase the activity.

Though initially thought to be fake, the video instantly attracted attention from streamers who felt this to be an underhand tactic that drastically undervalued the marketing potential of advertising live on Twitch. Many also flocked to share similar stories of companies manipulating Twitch’s donation mechanism (which allows viewers of a stream to give money or enter into paid subscription services) to advertise products and services. The majority of these brands have since been permanently banned by affected streamers, but some feel the damage has already been done.

Guerrilla marketing is not a new tactic, nor without risks, but Burger King’s stunt is certainly a 21st century adaptation. It can be likened to a brand dialling into a phone-in segment on TV or radio and using that airtime to advertise. To many marketing teams, that would be an unthinkable error, but the advent of live streaming services has made it an all-too-easy-way to get maximum exposure.

Guerrilla tactics are often used by brands to pioneer more innovative techniques of marketing or cut through what audiences traditionally perceive to be advertisements, often with memorable creative executions. Whilst sometimes successful, it is labelled by many as predatory or shady, often to the detriment of whoever is ambushed. In this case, it is clear who lucked out, with mid-weight streamers forced to air advertisements for less than $5 per time to audiences of thousands.  

The imbalance in the value exchange is one pretty serious dimension to this marketing misstep, but a thornier issue is that of sponsorship. Many streamers make a livelihood from advertisements and sponsorship from brands, which can fetch a handsome figure from the organisation willing to invest in up-and-coming gamers. It hasn’t yet been confirmed if any streamers have suffered breach of contract with partnered brands as a result of this campaign.

For me, the biggest problem here is the value of content. As marketers, we know how easy it can be for our work to be undervalued. As a function whose greatest challenge is to prove return on investment and demonstrate the value of our contributions to the bottom line, to fail to adequately imburse an influencer for exposure is not a good look. The innately conversational and human element of a platform such as Twitch, centred around building communities, just makes the experience more uncomfortable for both the streamer and the audience. It’s easy to say that this is what you might expect from a company such as Burger King, whose tongue-in-cheek persona is clear in all branded communications, but let’s not forget that this is a brand who have the marketing budget to truly invest in fledgling content creators or emerging platforms.

Ultimately, we want to hear your thoughts. Is this an innovative idea or a marketing misstep? Tweet us @CIM_Exchange and let us know what you think.

Ally Cook Content and engagement manager Formerly CIM
Back to all