Maria Soroka
18 Feb 2021
What was Burger King thinking when they ran the 'Mouldy Whopper' ad campaign?


The 'Mouldy Whopper' campaign by Burger King went viral and subsequently became the most awarded advert in 2020. Many commentators celebrated the campaign for its 'bravery' and 'rule-breaking', but others questioned its commercial strategy. With results from our recent food takeaway / delivery survey showing that Burger King had only a 21% interest in the UK, does an ad campaign like the 'Mouldy Whopper' really have the potential to drive consumer preference? We tested it out.
About the video ad
The Home of the Whopper launched a series of provoking advertising campaigns in its battle with McDonald's for consumer attention. There is some speculation online whether the campaign was inspired by the video of a 20 year old perfectly preserved McDonald's burger. The most memorable of the ads may well be the 'Mouldy Whopper', showing how it gradually degraded from looking fresh and yummy to being a completely mouldy burger within 34 days. The aim was to educate the audience on BK's artificial preservative-free burger. Watch it here.

So we asked ourselves, how does ambiguous advertising impact brands? And how do consumers react to advertising that has a positive message but may evoke negative emotions?
What did we test? The Mouldy Whopper Social Media Ad Campaign which launched 19th February 2020

Who did we target? The video was shown to the national representative sample of Brits between 18 to 45 y.o. We excluded 36% of those who rejected visiting Burger King in the future.

How was it tested? We used the AdVideo solution on the Fastuna platform. Online panel respondents were sent a survey link to their email. After viewing the ad, they answered our survey questions. We also added two bespoke questions about their attitude to Burger King and their intention to buy from them after watching the video.
Very polarising results
Considering that we screened out those who do not like Burger King, the ad only scored 49 out of 100. A weak result based on standardised Fastuna norms. Interestingly enough, that majority found the ad believable, but irrelevant. It wasn't liked, and it didn't evoke the intention to try the Whopper.
See the full report here.
The mouldy whopper stands out, but does it increase UK market share?
Indeed, the ad does stand out with a high uniqueness score (73% of unique+very unique). And quite a significant number of Brits found the ad interesting (61%). As we can see below, the comments are very polarising. Some people paid respect to Burger King for their attempt to raise such an important issue around the quality of food:
I liked it, it showed the impact of no preservatives.
Female, 36
However, consumers were not sure about its execution being the right one. Many people were disgusted after watching the video. Or they didn't get the point at all, as fast-food is there for instant consumption.
It was interesting to see the changes over time yet really disturbing that we consume that.
Male, 25
I do not want to know how my burger will look like in 34 days, it puts me off.
Female, 30
It’s disgusting. Not in any way appealing or make me want to eat a whopper.
Female, 34
I didn’t really understand the point of the video, other than a burger moulding in time of 34 days.
Female, 26
At least, the shareability potential is ok. As we know, the ad did create a big buzz on social platforms. It does make a specific point and even encourages some to check it for real.
It’s an interesting video and I’m curious to see if a whopper lasts that long.
Female, 22
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So: will people go for the Whopper?
From the screener, we learnt that 36% of Brits simply rejected Burger King in the first place. For a fair comparison, McDonald's had 29%. Here is what we've got: a massive polarisation between those who said 'yes' and those who said 'no'.
There was quite strong sentiment against it.
Worse than I did. It’s great that there are no artificial preservatives but this is a terrible way of showing it. No one wants to eat a moulding burger or even think of eating one.
Female, 27
It deters me. I understand the message they are conveying but it’s not something I want to see on TV.
Male, 43
Honestly, it puts me off going to Burger King I’m not a massive fan of Burger King anyway but this advertisement just makes me not want to go.
Female, 33
Though we see that real BK fans were supportive of their favourite burger. …Sorry: 'Whooper'! :)
I trust them more and I think that their burger is better than I thought.
Male, 27
Good because I can guarantee the food is fresh.
Female, 20
After seeing the video I will still go to Burger King. It is an amazing place.
Female, 21
Conclusion
Yes, the advert was disruptive, and the majority got the point. However, can the award be justified by the potential damage that the campaign did for the brand? It is working for the fans. Not for all. But for many. Does it work for the rest? The results are telling us: not really.

At Fastuna, we strongly support the idea that brands grow from reaching out to a wider audience. Check out the work by Byron Sharp if you haven't already. If you put off the majority of your potential target — will your brand grow out of your fanbase? A large proportion of sales happen outside of your target audience. Learn more in our article 'Wider than you think'.

We love figures to support the facts. Check out the recent food takeaway / delivery study figures for the fast-food chains in the UK. They speak for themselves, don't you think?
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