Everyday Ethics

Hillary and I were catching up yesterday and found ourselves chatting about the recent Burger King ad controversy. We yammered on in complete agreement for a few minutes before realizing we were referring to completely different ads, both in what we considered to be bad taste. Whoops. After we enlightened each other, we decided to give the Burger King ad execs a little what-for!

burger-king-lakshmi-hindu-poster-ad2.jpgBad Taste Example #1: Goddess Lakshmi Chows Down on Burger; Hindu Community Outraged

I’ve alluded in the past to my admittedly confused relationship with the religion of my upbringing, Hinduism. Internal conflict aside, however, I almost physically recoiled when I saw a Burger King advertisement depicting the Goddess Lakshmi munching on a meat sandwich.

Perhaps Burger King ad execs thought they would receive Lakshmi’s generous blessing on their profit margin — she is the goddess of prosperity, after all.

Instead, they managed to alienate the world’s third largest religious following. Eating meat is a major no-no for many Hindus; eating beef is even worse. From personal experience, it’s one of the first things even a mild acquaintance asks before sitting down to dinner — “Do you eat meat/beef?” So I must say I’m in complete disbelief that an advertising agency got these past the drawing board.

Burger King has issued an apology and pulled the ads; spokeswoman Denise T. Wilson said: 

“We are apologising because it wasn’t our intent to offend anyone. Burger King Corporation values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone.”

So either the advertisements were done in complete ignorance, or they were done with the express purpose of fueling controversy and debate, and thus more advertising dollars. If I were more cynical, I would also take her statement of “running to support only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone,” to mean, “we thought we could get away with it”. Hm, actually I think I am more cynical, because that’s exactly what I believe. It pushes the limits of my imagination to believe any business would consider using a religion to promote their bottom line without researching the religion’s most basic of tenets.

Yes yes, I’m always preaching the value of free speech. But I also believe that acting ethically is intricately bound to acting respectfully. Burger King managed to stomp all over respect and then some. I rarely wag my finger, but in this case, I feel quite comfortable saying, “Shame, shame”.


Bad Taste Example #2:Speaking of “Mind Blowing,” Here Comes the BK Super Seven Incher.



blow_burger.jpgI think our fellow Beliefnet blogger Norris Chumley
and our fearless CEO Steve Waldman have had great things to say on the subject of this tacky and tasteless ad. But may I add, exploiting women (even–nay especially–just women in far off Singapore) seems like a low road to take to the top of the burger heap.


It’s no shock that advertising is a dirty, unethical business. It’s no shock that it exploits women and offends religions great and small. In fact, that’s kind of part of its job–to catch your attention. Yet it seems to me that there must come a time when we, the public, set the limits for the advertising industry. Like parents to unruly children, we say, “You’ve gone too far, your behavior is unacceptable. Society doesn’t want what you’re selling.”


Oh, and by the way, images of blow jobs really don’t make me crave burgers. BK, you might be raising brand awareness, but you’re also raising brand aversion.



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