Over the past few days everyone has been up in arms over Mary J. Blige, singing about chicken. Well, it wasn’t the actual singing so to speak. It was the manner in which the ad was done. While this is a discussion worth having, there is an underlying issue that no one is talking about.
After viewing the Burger King commercial online, the first thing I wanted to know was which African American ad agency was responsible for this theatrical piece. It is estimated that our community spends approximately $1.1 billion annually at Burger King, according to Target Market News, a data mining company. Now, with us spending this type of dough, surely we should be able to get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha Franklin sings in her signature song from the sixties.
To my surprise, we’re not. I immediately learned that the recently displaced number two fast food chain – Burger King – doesn’t have one. Interesting! Why is this important, you ask? Well, in most cases, an African American ad agency would have been extremely sensitive about this issue and we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.
Ironically, Blige is a client of Steve Stoute, who is a marketing genius, and the one who convinced her, Will and Jada Smith, Jay-Z and other A-listers in his circle of influence to invest in Carol’s Daughter, which helped to broaden the brand’s appeal and gain national attention.
Now although Stoute has close ties with Blige and usually has hands on lining up A-listers with endorsing products, Translations, his ad agency, had nothing to do with Burger King’s latest debacle. Yet, with this said, the advertising guru managed to send out a tweet earlier this week which said, “the issue is the Burger King commercial is that these (majority-owned) agencies visit culture and then do work that is so inauthentic …. it’s embarrassing.” Stoute, who is also the author of the must-read book, The Tanning of America: How Hip Hop Created a Culture That Reworks the Rules of the New Economy touches on this issue in his book.
In fact, upon further research, I found out that UniWorld, a multicultural ad agency, which is owned by a brother, had been Burger King’s African American agency of record for the past 25 years, until they (along with the Hispanic-owned agency Latin Works) were fired in 2010, when a new owner took over the fast food chain and decided to consolidate advertising. And by consolidation this meant that a non-African American (and Hispanic) agency was taking over the account. At the time of the consolidation, here’s the statement the fast food chain released by the then marketing vice president Leo Leon, “We felt the right decision for Burger is to address all our consumer as a whole, instead of taking a segmented approach.”
Well, obviously based upon this latest snafu, this approach isn’t working. Now while I am not sure if this web-only ad was meant for our community (or the general public), it’s time for us to move beyond just having a discussion and look at where the money is flowing.
If you take a closer look at McDonald’s, who is the number one fast food chain in the market, they have a Black-owned ad agency, Burrell Communications. In fact, Burrell is responsible for developing general marketing advertising too for the fast food chain giant. And so far, they have yet to create a campaign that has rocked the boat with any group—regardless of age, race, political, religious or sexual orientation. (Ok, I think I have got everyone covered so as not to offend). McDonald’s also recently announced that Don Thompson will become the first African American to become CEO of the chain later this summer. Obviously, McDonald’s should be the model for Burger King to follow, if they have plans on moving Wendy’s out of the number two seat.
So, beyond the inaccurate stereotype that was portrayed in Blige’s current online ad, the discussions we need to be having with Burger King is why is it taking so long to rehire an African-American ad agency? And, why has the media spending in our community from Burger King slipped to about $6 million, which is significantly down from where they were a few years ago? (As a side note, in 2010, Nielsen’s latest study detailing “The State of the African American Consumer” revealed that McDonald’s was the only restaurant/fast food chain to make the Top 10 advertisers list, as it relates to spending in our community.)
Usually, having an African-American Agency means a domino effect – jobs and spending in our community! Now the word on the street is that Burger King has been looking for an African American agency for over a year to properly target us. At this point, this needs to be at the top of the chain’s agenda. If Burger King plans on cashing-in on the estimated $1.1 our community spends annually with them, shouldn’t we get more than a song and a shake (dance)? No pun intended!
In light of this recent issue with Burger King, it’s time for us to become socially- conscious consumers. So many times we beg companies to allow us to support their product and/or service without asking for anything in return. We’ve got to be wiser consumers and do a little homework to see if the money is flowing back into the community (or at least things we believe in) and not just let companies off the hook. We are living in a multicultural society even if some groups would like you to think otherwise. If they’re not supporting us, should we be supporting them?