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ASA ruling on “humorous” tweets – Burger King

Published on 21 January 2020

How careful do you need to be when using topical events to let loose a branded tweet? Put another way, was the combination of Nigel Farage, “milkshaking” and “#justsaying” a responsible tweet by Burger King?

The key takeaway

Be cautious! Before attempting to go public with a “humorous” tweet or ad on current affairs, assess the social impact that it may have and consider whether it will breach any of the rules in the CAP Code.

The ad

A tweet sent by the official Burger King twitter account on 18 May 2019, included the text, “Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK. #justsaying”. Before the tweet was deleted it had received over 19,000 retweets and 108,000 likes.

In May 2019 a McDonald’s Restaurant in Edinburgh chose not to sell milkshakes amid concerns that people were buying them to throw at Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who was holding a rally in the city. McDonald’s had made this decision as Farage had been hit by a milkshake during a rally in Newcastle a few days earlier.

The response

The tweet received 24 complaints. The complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible, offensive and encouraged violence and anti-social behaviour.

Burger King responded that the tweet was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek reaction to recent events where milkshakes had been thrown at political figures. 

Burger King stated that it did not endorse violence and that was made clear with a follow-up tweet that stated, “We’d never endorse violence – or wasting our delicious milkshakes! So enjoy the weekend and please drink responsibly people”.

A Burger King spokesman said: “It appears some have misinterpreted this as an endorsement of violence, which we absolutely reject. At Burger King, we totally believe in individuals’ right to freedom of expression and would never do anything that conflicts with this. We’d never endorse violence or wasting our delicious milkshakes”.

The decision 

The ASA upheld the complaints and banned the ad.

It considered that the ad was likely to be seen as a reference to the recent incidents of “milkshaking” political figures. Despite the intention being a humorous response to the suspension of milkshake sales by Burger King’s competitor (McDonald’s), the ASA considered that the tweet could be understood as suggesting that Burger King milkshakes could be used to “milkshake” Nigel Farage. 

The “milkshaking” incidents had been widely reported in the media and there was a fear by the ASA that those who saw the tweet were likely to be aware that Nigel Farage was due to make more public appearances in Scotland that weekend.

The ASA believed that the ad condoned the previous anti-social behaviour and encouraged further instances. Therefore it held that the ad was irresponsible, offensive and encouraged violence and anti-social behaviour and breached CAP Code Rules 1.3 and 4.4.

Why is this important?

Engaging with audiences and responding to current affairs is an important part of a modern communications strategy. This decision reminds organisations to take particular care when responding to current affairs and that what is humorous to one person may easily be seen as irresponsible and anti-social by another.

Any practical tips?

In our fast-moving, digital age it is tempting to take a quick, topical and humorous dig at a competitor or use real-time developments in the news to reach a vast social media audience. But tread carefully – you have to sit back and coldly work through all the potential interpretations, especially ones that can portray your brand in an irresponsible or anti-social light. Best to loop in your legal team – not because they won’t have a sense of humour (!), but because it’s their job to take a more measured view of the potential repercussions.