More than 230,000 Facebook members got a rude awakening this past week when they were notified that they had been “de-friended” for a nice, juicy Burger King Whopper.
Facebook users who installed the “Whopper Sacrifice” application were rewarded with a coupon for a free Whopper if they de-friended 10 people from their “friends list,” a directory of contacts with whom Facebook members can e-mail, chat and play online games.
Facebook members that were de-friended received a message that informed them, “You’ve been sacrificed!” The tag line for the Whopper Sacrifice application is, “You like your friends, but you love the Whopper.”
The application is the brainchild of Miami-based Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a marketing and public relations firm that has a reputation for pushing the edge in the social media sector.
A few years ago, the firm came up with a popular social media application for Burger King called the “Subservient Chicken,” whereby users go to a Web site with prerecorded video of a man in a chicken suit. Users type commands into a field below the video stream and the chicken obeys those commands. For example, if a user types in “hop on one foot,” the chicken will do so.
“It was one of the first social media applications by a marketer that was widely used by the public,” Emily Riley, an analyst at Forrester Research, told the E-Commerce Times. “Revenue wasn’t the point — brand perception was the point, and it made BK look savvy online.”
However, it appears that the outcomes of some marketing campaigns are more predictable than others.
“More than 200,000 friends were de-friended with [Whopper Sacrifice,]” Riley said. “The negative backlash came as more people got de-friended. [Whopper Sacrifice’s] own popularity turned on it. Basically, it showed that there are a lot of people out there willing to dump a friend for a Whopper.”
Going Too Far?
The Whopper Sacrifice is inherently antisocial because it is based on excluding others in order to win a prize, said Carl Howe, an analyst with the Yankee Group.
“We shouldn’t be surprised that Facebook wasn’t a big fan,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
However, Facebook didn’t terminate the application. It modified it so that users weren’t notified when they were de-friended. In the end, it was Burger King that ended the application.
Here’s the statement from Facebook regarding why it modified the application: “We encourage creativity from developers and companies using Facebook Platform, but we also must ensure that applications meet users’ expectations of privacy. After constructive conversations with Burger King and the developer of the application, they have decided to conclude their campaign rather than continue with the restrictions we placed on their application.”
Neither Riley nor Howe buys Facebook’s explanation.
“This is a pretty high-profile application that was covered by the media a week or so ago,” Riley said. “I think [Facebook, Burger King and Crispin Porter] were all waiting to see what the reaction was going to be. I applaud them for being experimental. I just think there was probably an unspoken understanding between all the companies that it was an experiment. It ran its course, and the publicity was good.”
For his part, Howe said Facebook probably didn’t mind the publicity generated by Whopper Sacrifice.
“There’s an old saying in the PR business, ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity,'” Howe said. “If you can get people talking about Burger King because they have this application that’s unusual, that’s a good thing.”