Burger King’s ‘Women’s Day’ tweet retraction and the need for context

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It has become customary for brands to see every occasion (such as Earth Day) or big news event as an opportunity to create ads – mainly social media creatives. Burger King posted a tweet in the context Women’s Day and got into kerfuffle on media. Eventually they retracted the original tweet which said, ‘Women belong in the kitchen’ not before outrage across media.

It got me thinking about the need for context in today’s media environment as a small misstep can lead to huge negative publicity (no, ‘any publicity is good publicity’ is not true). To out things in perspective this is what the brand articulated after a lot of negative tweets from users:

As part of the campaign, there was a print ad too which explained the intent in the body copy.

The original intent (without getting into the pros and cons of it) was lost because a ‘context’ was missing in the key format: the tweet. In the environment a print ad operates in – a newspaper or magazine, when a reader is casually flipping through the pages, an attention-grabbing headline or visual (of an ad or editorial news) is likely to grab attention. The double-take which follows after reading an intriguing headline is cleared quickly if the body copy explains the intent. For example, Trikaya Advertising, an ad agency known for being a creative powerhouse released a print ad in the late 80s (or was it the early 90s?). The headline, ‘Nude models wanted’ was definitely provocative but the body copy which followed not only cleared the doubts but brought a smile or chuckle. Chances are the ad was seen as endearing and not offensive (in any case, it was a different world back then).

Cut to 2021. We live in a world where people scroll through timelines and swipe through photos in a few seconds. People take offence over anything and have many platforms to vent their anger. Most ‘reading’ which happens is essentially a quick scan. The scope for ‘double take’ becomes that much more harder for brands. And when attention is grabbed (as was the case with Burger King’s Women’s Day tweet) hardly anyone has the patience or inclination to ‘seek’ out the context – especially in the context of a tweet. The print ad may be a different story altogether – the chances of readers having read the body copy and understood the intent are higher, in my opinion.

Even when it comes to news, we have all been conditioned to not go beyond the headline. Very often, what the headline says and what the article actually means could be different. Very few among us actually seek out details or go in-depth on a topic. That’s the reason why click-bait headlines, WhatsApp forwards and even ‘short form’ news work. The niche audience which has the inclination to not limit themselves to headlines is what the subscription news market is chasing. Anyway, I digress.

The need to be aware of the media environment in which a brand’s creative is released – be it a hoarding, radio, print ad or Instagram post has always been important. It heightens the need to be not just clutter-breaking (by being provocative for example) but be relevant for both the audience and the context in which the creative is seen.

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