Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Burger King and the Politics of Social Media Transparency

In Ideas on January 15, 2009 at 9:35 am
All hail his Royal Twitterness, The King

All hail his Royal Twitterness, The King

My Twitter exchange with @TheBKLounge last week didn’t just lead to my first purchase of an Angry Whopper, it also sparked an interesting conversation with Warren Sukernek, regarding Social Media transparency. I’ve got a lot of respect for Warren (he is, after all, the Twitter Maven), but we had a difference of opinion that I thought was worth discussing in a more open forum – it was, after all, about transparency. Warren questioned whether the @TheBKLounge Twitter account was being run by Burger King’s ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, or by a Burger King employee. I’ll let Warren put forth his argument in just a moment. First, here’s my take…

Transparency is a legitimate issue in PR in general, and especially so in Social Media where the engagement with consumers is so direct. However, I think this particular case is an exception to the rule, and here’s why:

1. Consumer advocacy isn’t an issue

Consumers aren’t being defrauded nor is their trust being compromised. If Crispin Porter set up a Twitter account called @The_RealBarackObama and then tweeted: “Man, I love Burger King,” that would be fraudulent. Or if Alex Bogusky went on Twitter and said, “The Whopper is the best burger ever,” but didn’t divulge that his agency worked for Burger King, that would be deceiving.

2. The King is a fictional character

The avatar for @TheBKLounge is The King. A fictional character and the brand persona of Burger King. I would argue that not only does it not matter whether CP+B or Burger King corporate is behind the account, but that actually knowing would break the illusion. The best storytelling requires a suspension of disbelief, whether a movie, book or in some cases, Social Media engagement.

3. What’s the difference between CP+B and Burger King?

Ostensibly there is little (no?) difference between a CP+B employee and a Burger King employee in this case. Either way, the person running the Twitter account is working on behalf of Burger King, with Burger King’s consent. Last fall I participated in the Mad Men on Twitter Social Media event. It would be completely fair to argue that I should have had a disclaimer saying I was not affiliated in any way with the show, because I wasn’t. But in this case I don’t see the issue. Twitter is a loosely regulated environment right now and the natural inclination, especially among the most exemplary of Social Media custodians may be to go by the letter of the law. But I think we need to allow for some creativity, and yes, a little magic.

Long live the King!

And now, let’s here from Warren…

First, Rick thanks for inviting me to discuss this important issue on Eyecube. Social media is all about relationships and engagement with our customers. In order to achieve that engagement, consumers must trust us. We help to build trust by being transparent and authentic. If we cannot be authentic, then how can we engage with a customer with honesty and respect. One of the tenets of social media is the Cluetrain Manifesto by David Weinberger (@dweinberger), Doc Searls (@dsearls) , Rick Levine (@ricklevine), and Chris Locke, whereby markets are conversations. To me a conversation with a character managed by an ad agency does not seem like it’s following the Cluetrain Manifesto. I really think the practice of using a fictional character to represent a brand on Twitter is a slippery slope, especially since the brand has no other presence on Twitter.

1) But enough about my ideas and thoughts, let’s see what Twitter had to say. I asked Twitter, “Is it ok for an ad agency to bring a client’s character to twitter and tweet as if they are that character, as if they are the brand?”

And here were some of the answers:

Jay Gaines (@Izjay) said, Not sure if it’s okay, but I know it’s not a good idea.  Better to find a smart/passionate employee who will actually connect.

@Bluemedia I think if the agency has a deep understanding of the brand it is fine, but there is a VERY thin line that must not be crossed.

PR Pro Aaron Blank (@seattleblank) said, only if they are transparent.

 Tyler Hurst (@tdhurst), huge gray area. as long as you are honest, sure. we all know this was going to happen sooner or later.

Michael Troiano @miketrap If it’s 1958, sure.

Former Apple Director of Advertising Michael Markman (@mickeleh) Can’t tell you if a brand character sock puppet performed by an agency is OK. I can, however, tell you it would make me puke.

 To show how @mickeleh really feels, check out his next tweet, “Hi, I’m Charlie the Tuna. Follow me on Twitter and we can be fishy BFFs.”

The issue about always being in character is suspect. Just a couple of weeks ago, @thebklounge sent a Cease and Desist notice to a fan who had brandjacked, @whoppervirgins,

If @thebklounge is always in character, how are we to take this seriously?

3) As Mark Drapeau said in his provocative Mashable post, Twitter is about people sharing information with other people.

Who would you rather talk to on Twitter, a brand’s character or someone directly working at the brand?

4) Kate Kaye also writes in Clickz about best practices that some leading brands are implementing on Twitter to engage with their customers and solve marketing, customer service or relationship issues. She states,”[Regardless of how brands are using Twitter], “there is some consensus regarding the need to take a personal approach”.

Sorry, Twitter (and social media for that matter) is not another just channel for brands and their ad agencies to push out their message. We want to engage with brands, but in a realistic, transparent, and honest manner.

Ok, Round 1 goes to Warren and his army of Social Media guardians, well played. But hold on, let’s hear from some other voices. First, here’s Fernando Rizo (@fernandorizo), a PR pro at Ketchum…

Now, with regard to the @theBKLounge there is a great deal of room for criticism. Warren, it seems to me, though is missing the forest for the trees. When we’re talking about a fictional character created by an ad agency, there’s no need for the sort of “transparency” that Warren is demanding. If there was a Twitter account that was @NYSGovernorsOffice, we could and should demand to know who are the people manning that account. If the account was called @GovernorDavidPatterson, even more so. Or what about @LeVarBurton? We’d all be heart-broken if there was a publicist at the helm of that account, and not LeVar himself as it appears.

But with @theBKLounge, this level of transparency is neither required nor useful. The King is a character invented by Crispin Porter, and it seems rather obvious to everyone that that account has a CPB person running it. But there’s no deception here – no one actually thinks that The King exists, therefore no one is going to be heartbroken or feel misled when it turns out that the The King himself is not punching the keys. The account might as well be @SantaClaus.

Furthermore, suppose that CPB notices the demands for transparency and obliges. A press release comes out revealing that Account Executive Sarah Smith of Miami, FL is the voice of @theBKLounge. Where does that leave us? We’ve learned no useful information and (importantly) the way that we approach the account and the information coming out of it does not change one iota. Calling for transparency just because we’re Web 2.0 PR people and that’s our mantra is just dogmatic. In the case of this Twitter account, transparency gains nothing for the consumer. 

So that’s the trees, where’s the forest? In my opinion the biggest reason to criticize @theBKLounge is that it doesn’t really scale well does it? The account has accrued a little over 700 followers. You might argue that these people are influencers, but a quick perusal of the list shows that that doesn’t appear to be the case. If our assumption is right and this is a CPB tactic, they’re getting some wonderful engagement with users, but it’s got to be a pretty low ROI figure for what they’re spending.

Thanks Fernando. And now, here’s another perspective:

Saman Rahmanian is an Interactive Art Director at CP+B – the agency responsible for Burger King’s Whopper Sacrifice campaign among others. Here are his personal thoughts on the issue of Social Media transparency:

When Fiction Blurs Reality

The Twitter account @theBKlounge has sparked a social media debate between advocates of transparency with those of… well, storytelling.

The first group reasons that social media should not be abused by masqueraders and that the source of information should always be apparent. The second group takes a different approach arguing that the information per se is what matters, not where it comes from.

In the past, social media channels that are intrinsically transparent and authentic in nature (MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter,…) have seen numerous examples that have gone against the norm. Helga from the VW ads with her MySpace page a few years ago comes to mind or lonelygirl15 who had a terrific success on YouTube with her video posts on such topics as her lazy eye. Fake Steve Jobs with his hilariously insightful blog was a more apparent example of a fictional character entertaining the crowd.

So why do people follow these characters? Because people love entertainment. To be exact, people love stories. In some instances the very question of whether a character is real or not becomes the story, as in the case of lonelygirl15. But what truly makes this hype work is that people can now become part of the story they love. Let’s take Donald Duck. We all know him. We all know how he dresses, in what town he lives. We know the names of his nephews, and we even know which girl he fancies. But before social media came to place, this story – whilst being a great one – could only be unidirectional. We could only sit back, enjoy and find out more about him. It was not possible to converse with him. This can change with social media.

Now Donald Duck could have a Twitter account (I don’t think there is one) and people would be on the same level with him. He suddenly becomes a buddy who you can talk to and who you can ask questions that have always lingered in your mind (like “why do you wrap a towel around your waist when you come out of the shower while you normally don’t even wear pants?”).

So if it’s the story that people are after, why are people so concerned about the source? What difference does it make whether the agency, the company or a BK fan is behind @theBKlounge? And while I respect @warrenss and his views on authenticity, quite frankly it doesn’t matter. As long as people love the story, they will follow. And because I like @warrenss, I will give an educated guess on the authenticity of @theBKlounge: Has the King ever talked?

You can follow Saman Rahmanian on Twitter at @saman325.


UPDATE 1/16/09 5:00pm: Rob Walker, author of Buying In, writer of NY Times Magazine’s Consumed column and author of the Murketing blog was kind enough to add his thoughts:

I guess that as always I’m less interested in this stuff from a marketing tactics point of view than from a consumer point of view. As in, why would a regular consumer (who is not in the business of persuasion, as it were) want to “follow” the king on Twitter?

Possibly they expect to get some kind of payoff in the form of, I don’ t know, special offers or maybe services or something that only King followers would know about.

Possibly they just think Burger King advertising is kind of funny/weird/whatever and expect that the King’s tweets would live up to that. In a way, the King having a Twitter feed seems to me at least on some level to be a satire of celebrities having a Twitter feed. If Shaquille O’Neal, why not the imaginary Burger King? In other words, it’s all just a goof. For kicks. Like that.

So I don’t think they’d care if the tweets were written by an employee of BK, CPB, or by a robot. As long as they got what they wanted — some kind of deal, some entertainment, whatever. I’m not sure what engagement people would be looking for beyond that — I don’t think anybody would expect that much of a mascot’s Twitter feed. But then I’m not a certified Twitter expert, so maybe I’m wrong.

I really can’t thank Warren, Fernando, Saman, Rob and the other participants enough for their thoughtfulness and passion. This is a worthy discussion and I hope it continues –  in the comments below, on Twitter and hopefully in other forums and outlets.

  1. hello mate,

    very interesting.

    as an agent / agency – there is functionally no distinction between cp&b and BK. equally, the king, as an agent, even thought fictional, still represents BK

    Agency is a philosophical concept of the capacity of an agent to act in a world. The agency is considered as belonging to that agent, even if that agent represents a fictitious character, or some other non-existent entity. …

    of course, it depends on how you chose to define stuff. as always.

    but, as always, telling fibs is naughty, but using devices to extend obvious narrative into the real world tends to be satisfying.

    it probably behooves us all to be experimenting with new comms platforms, as the grammar hasn’t codified yet and we won’t know how they work until we play with them.

    but that doesn’t mean we should treat them like billboards.


  2. Here’s my two cents: the whole debate is sort of pointless.

    People will either interact with the character or they won’t.
    Some people will “puke a little” over the fact he exists.
    Others will think it’s pretty funny to talk to someone pretending to be the Burger King and spend some time with it.
    Or everyone will ignore him.

    The determining factor will likely be the skill of the writer who is playing The Burger King

    What I find astounding is this constant drumbeat about what Twitter “is.”

    Twitter IS whatever the user wants it to be.

    Many people will want to use it exclusively for conversation with people they already know in real life. They will not be looking for “influencers” or “experts” because those people have no relevance for them.

    They may even think it’s funny to talk to a guy pretending to be The Burger King.

    And that’s their prerogative. It may not be how you’d choose to spend your time, but I bet you don’t dig Rob Schneider movies either, and yet he actually has a fan base.

    In terms of transparency, it would be a good idea to let people know it’s an “official” character rather than a fan-created one.

    Stepping down from soap box now…

  3. I echo what Alan said. And I’ll add one more thing: any time a brand is using Twitter, account should have a bio that includes a real person’s name.

    For example, the @FordDriveOne account bio reads:
    “Drive Quality, Drive Green, Drive Safe and Drive Smart – that’s Ford. This account is run by @ScottMonty, head of social media for Ford.”

    And the @FordCustService account bio goes like this:
    “We’re here to help. Click the link to submit comments or questions about our products & services. This account is run by Michael Mc Elhone, analyst at Ford.”

    Real people. Real conversations.

  4. While I think Alan is right, people will either like it or they won’t, brands who decide to engage in Twitter will be faced with an obvious choice: Be the voice of the brand, or be the voice of a person.

    Clearly, it’s in Crispin’s best interest to convince BK to pick the former. For starters, they are paid to be the keepers of the brand’s voice. They have a legitimate argument that years of crafting the voice can be muddled by tweets from Joe in Marketing. (to me, the cease and desist was out of voice, and an error, but I don’t know the details).

    At our agency, we also counsel on the former. We think that a character is better than a person. But lets look at the business implications of the person.

    If a brand hires that person to be the Twitter person, then that person is the voice of the brand. If they have political opinions, personal opinions, it’s hard to separate those from the brand. If Joe in Marketing gets to 5000 followers and then Tweets that Obama is a crook (or something), then BK would have an issue.

    likewise, if Joe began looking around the workplace for a raise. You can’t seamlessly replace Joe.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I even wrote a blog post abut it.

    I have an obvious bias, since I work as a storyteller in an ad agency and I also do tweets for a client as them.

    This is an interesting debate though. One we’ve wondered about for a while.

  5. Scott,

    Thanks for sharing Ford’s POV. I agree wholeheartedly. And that transparency and respect for the reader is all that I am asking for. I also agree with Alan’s points on Twitter use. People can and should use it any way that they see fit and are comfortable- whatever the user wants it to be.

    But the end result is Real people. Real conversations.

  6. What an interesting read this turned out to be – thanks for your effort in creating it, Rick.

    I think it bears mentioning that the bulk of my argument pre-figures that @theBKLounge is, in fact, an account run by CPB. And I rather think that Warren’s arguments were as well. Saman’s not-quite-denial there at the tail end of his comments certainly puts a bit of a spin on things.

  7. I’m of two minds about the whole thing. First is that these social media channels tend to be reserved for transparent conversations, problem-solving, and general networking. Of course, those of us heavily invested in social media every day have come to think that way.

    I agree that the “character brands” on Twitter create a slippery slope. I’m not following because I have no interest in talking with a fictional character, and the whole King campaign creeps me out, start to finish (I hope it does finish some time).

    Is the objection that it is a character not a person? It looks like people are having fun with it.

    Is the objection that it is an agency and not BK directly? If I were to say something on behalf of a client, I would require of myself (and have) that my identification as an agent rather than direct employee be readily disclosed. That seems not to be the case here, and it should be.

    Is the objection that the brand is pushing out messages and not interacting? One look at the Twitter page refutes that contention.

    Is the objection that it doesn’t scale? Well, it hasn’t scaled. 700 people in a Twitter network for a brand like Burger King is pathetic- though I don’t know how long they have been at it. Might it scale, and is Twitter the place for that? We might have to wait and see.

    In all, I agree with the “slippery slope” comment. An agency creating a brand character to interact with the public is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is dangerous. Has Burger king/CPB screwed it up? i don’t think so. Are they being dishonest? I don’t think so- but disclosure and accountability should be more apparent.

    Another point– this discussion points back to the “who owns social media?” fight. the PR side (I’m there) favors people discussing things as people. The ad side may favor more “creative” and fictional representation. Put that way, it is a slippery slope, but heck, sometimes we just would like to have fun here.

    Doug Haslam
    SHIFT Communications

  8. […] King’s @theBKLounge promotion on Twitter heated up this debate just today. I think the answer lies in differentiating among the different kinds of activities inherent to […]

  9. Excellent discussion here. I agree that, so long as no one is masking or hiding relationships, there’s no ethical hangup in the agency as extension of the client. But I echo Scott Monty’s comments above – it’s about real people and real conversations. I’m cool with the King Twittering and would even appreciate it so long as I had access to know CP was behind it and this person or this group of people were the active participants.

    Of course, there’s a difference between what we in social media think and the average American consumer. I think a lot more people will accept the charade than we anticipate.

    Good discusion.

  10. Jason, I think your last point is important. As more people get on Twitter, what we think may not hold.

  11. @Scott – I can see why Ford’s tweets might have your name attached to them– but given that The King is clearly fictional, don’t you think it’s enough that BK just let people know that they are behind it. Can’t imagine anyone caring who the actual writer is.

    Not sure what “real people, real conversations” means in this context. People had fun with the (fan-created) Mad Men characters. They have fun with the King. Those characters aren’t “real” and the people talking to them know that. And there’s a big difference between a brand tweeting as a brand and a fictional ad character with a 30+ year history tweeting for fun. The latter is just for kicks and gigles and I think people get that.

    Jason Falls reiterates the initial point I made quite nicely:
    “Of course, there’s a difference between what we in social media think and what the average American consumer thinks.”

    All of us working in the social media space should repeat that to ourselves daily.

  12. For me, you summed it up all in one sentence–“Who would you rather talk to on Twitter, a brand’s character or someone directly working at the brand?”

    Because honestly, how easy it is then for any brand to just hire an agency to man their account so they can give themselves kudos and a pat on the back because they are “active in social media”?

    A character will only have so long of a shelf life. For example, during the election and debates, it was amusing to follow @FakeSarahPalin. But once the election was over, the tweets soon stopped. I think that eventually this would hold true for any character manned by an agency. It may be entertaining for a little while, but soon enough you want real interaction with real people engaging in real conversations of value. And really, I think that is the bottom line.

  13. I agree with Jason on this, as long as the agency is transparent that they are involved, and setting expectations, people can then make their own decisions about whether to follow or not.

    There’s a lot of humor in this discussion, we are talking about a fake character, who is also fake if the agency does not reveal their identity.

    on another point. I also don’t think the cluetrain is the be all and end of social media, we should revisit the book. There were a lot of good ideas, but I think some of the advice may actually hurt companies, in that rather than building an infrastructure, employing people to use social media and monitor, we hope employees will run social media in their spare time. Sometimes that works, but often not. I think we have to realize its 2009 and we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Putting aside the fake character in relation to the cluetrain book, I don’t think the authors would recommend that idea. An agency managing a fake character is a sign of what does not work in social media, not having a strategy for engagement using employees who have the time to engage.

  14. i think, with regards to transparency, much of what has been said got at the heart of the issue, so i won’t touch on that or rehash. but with regards to relevancy–that is, the ‘so what?’ factor–which makes a mere 700 followers questionable, i have to say that i think the account is doing a pretty crappy job. i’m not surprised at the (relative) lack of interest.

    you can tell it’s being handled by an account person and not someone with a passion for the character or the brand. the tone of the tweets are all wrong. in one tweet he says “pretty rad” in quotes, insinuating the King would not say that–but in the same tweet, uses the vernacular “hit the hay.” the King should sound like his bio–like a King. give me Spamalot-esque faux-medieval giggles.

    not to mention, most of his (non-interactive) tweets just sound like marketing. check out the Whopper here. look, SNL spoofed the Whopper. by the way, Whopper Virgins and Facebook. guess what? if i found you on Twitter, i probably knew that already. at least mix it up with some actual character interest. develop the King’s ‘face,’ regardless. it’s barely touched on, but possible–like the amusing tweet, “I knight thee Sir Cubanchino the Whopper Eater.”

    right now, it just reads like a marketing person with a King icon. and that’s, to me, what the biggest shortcoming of the character/account issue here.

  15. I think this debate is somewhat a lot of chatter about nothing. What’s the issue here folks? If this was the CEO of Burger King’s Twitter account, and it came to light that the account was actually being run by ab agency, then I’d be right there with you wagging my finger and speaking on the need for transparency. But it’s not, it’s called the BKLounge, which in itself is pretty nebulous. BK is a brand – not a person; the “King” is a fictional character who represents that brand, not a real person. To reiterate what’s already been covered: what difference does it make if the person responsible for curating the character profile has their checks signed by Burger King or through an agency? Either way, they work for Burger King, and I believe that it’s the job of the agency as the gatekeepers of social media communications to provide best practices for that brand as it pertains to transparency, authenticity, frequency, tone, etc.

  16. Thanks to everyone who has commented thus far. You’ve all really added to the conversation. I want to highlight something that Saman pointed out in his portion of the original post, and something that Girl Riot is alluding to.

    Perhaps @thebklounge is not being run by CP+B *or* BK, but rather by a rogue fan.

    If that’s the case, how does it change your opinion about the account?

  17. I love this discussion. Like Doug, I’m also of two minds on this. At the end of the day, I probably lean more in the “I don’t love the idea of an agency tweeting on someone’s behalf” camp.

    At the risk of looking like I’m trying to pimp out my blog (I’m not), I wrote a post on a similar topic the other day. The focus was on authenticity and I used the Man vs. Wild and Survivorman example. If you look at nothing else, check out the Twitter responses embedded in the post. Like the tweets above, they are quite telling.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  18. […] a fair amount of Twittebate regarding the bringing to life of the Burger King on Twitter , which is kind of funny, if only […]

  19. This is not about rules, laws, ethics, or who owns social media. This is about what works.

    Shannon is right. (And I wrote that quote in my original Mashable article.)And Scott is right too.

    CP+B is just coming up with a bunch of gimmicks that have no longevity, from Seinfeld with Bill Gates in people’s houses (creepy) to The King doing…whatever (far creepier). There’s a burst of chatter about the brand but no significant group of people is more likely to buy MS Office or a Whopper.

    People want to talk to people. Sure, they’ll have fun with King, Mad Men, or Fake Sarah Palin. But is that a marketing strategy?

    I’ll tell you some things that The King can’t do – give a talk to the government. Sit on a panel. Write an op-ed. Run a blog. Join the local Chamber of Commerce. Buy you a drink.

    But I (@cheeky_geeky) can do all of that, and more. I post Facebook pics, go to parties, and have a day job. And people like @zappos, @scottmonty, @garyvee, and others do too. People truly engage with them because they’re passionate and real.
    So sure, it’s “okay” to have characters on Twitter. But if I was running a company and found out that my marketing team hired CP+B to design a Twitter character dressed up like a living box of Dog Chow – I’d fire everyone.

  20. I’m totally in agreement with Mark and Shannon here. I think people enjoy the novelty of talking with the King, with the cast of Mad Men, but it doesn’t have a ton of strategy behind it and I’m not convinced that talking to the King makes me want to buy an Angry Whopper.

    I’d much rather talk with the people behind the brand, not its marketing campaign. I believe @scottmonty and @zappos have done wonders for their brands in a relatively short amount of time because they’re real. They’re accessible and they’re not afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes. And if they don’t know something, they find out answers, quickly. It’s so much better from a consumer and brand standpoint to empower the people that are truly passionate about the brand. If it’s not an employee, it is an empowered consumer who helps the brand.

    Great post,
    Dan | @danieleizans

  21. First tenet – be transparent so if in some profile page for the King, it states who is under the crown, then that’s all I need.

    Second – It’s a freakin’ character for crying out loud. It’s a king at that! Not even most countries with monarchies take their royalty seriously

    I’m not talking about “Hey where’s the beef?” or “Who’s fudgin’ the books at Burger King” – (no one’s doing that I’m just making a funny)

    We’re talking about a make believe character, now he’s not a clown I realize, but you can still have fun with a King, can’t you?

    Queen says, “How was your day honey?”

    King replies, “It’s your majesty, and it was a typical day, you know, gave out a few chickens to old ladies, saw a ghastly grade school performance of Hamlet, a couple of beheadings, you know same old same old.”

    There I’ve come to the end of my rant – King Me!

  22. Monty is right- and agree- what’s really the point of this? I would listen much closer to a real human than a cartoon- and my question what are they trying to hide? Marketing campaigns are great- but not on twitter conversations. rogue fan? – then that in my eyes could border possibly some from of deception. I appreciate the branding effort- if it is a corporate person-but give me a real human please.

  23. At the end of the day, what matters is how many sales Burger King makes. The debate about fictional vs. real is only important if there’s a substantial difference in ROI for Burger King.

    Rather than spend time with a cartoon character, wouldn’t it be more useful to connect a Burger King bot to Twitter so that I could tweet the address of where I am right now to @burgerkingbot and have it tell me where the nearest Burger King is so I can get something to EAT?

  24. Interesting debate with some very excellent points in the comments.

    Personally? I think the debate is a bit off target. The question becomes “what is the objective of the creators?” If it’s to get people to buy BK’s products – I’d say it’s rather a waste of time. If it’s to engage BK fans who think that there’s something “neat” about talking to a fictional character? Then who cares who runs it – company, agency, or rogue-fan – those who want to ‘talk’ to a fictional character will be happy. Will it up their purchases of BK products? Unlikely. But hey, throw your ad dollars where you will.

    I think the underlying issue that many folks have touched on but rather skirted is that people who want to engage with a company want to twitter with real people. A fictional character isn’t going to make people on twitter who aren’t already fans think “wow! Why didn’t I buy Burger King instead of McDonald’s today?”

    I’m sure that many people will follow the account – no matter who is running it – as has been shown by the popularity of the fan-created characters from AMC’s Mad Men show. But I’m wondering what the point is? It doesn’t build out the brand at all – because no one who isn’t already aware of it is going to follow or put trust in a fictional character run by nameless/faceless people.

    Twitter is only an effective tool for a business if they actually engage their target audience – but not just the fans, the undecideds or the naysayers. This just isn’t going to do that – so either way, it’s not a good use of the tool.

  25. I agree with Fernando Rizo the most. Especially when he says “Calling for transparency just because we’re Web 2.0 PR people and that’s our mantra is just dogmatic.”

    There are no social media absolutes. And we should never underestimate the intelligence of the people consuming this content. They get it.

    In the end, they’ll vote with their attention and dollars.

  26. I’m glad this topic has got so much attention so far. But that’s hardly surprising considering the people’s passion on this issue.

    As a marketing objective I completely agree with Christopher that the only result that counts is the sales generated for Burger King. But the topic here goes far beyond the BK character and tackles the broader issue of transparency and whether that should be a prerequisite for social media behaviour.

  27. Wow, the comments here is like a roomful of my favorite voices!

    Here’s my question: Why is it an either/or proposition? Why can’t you have a fictional character AND a real representative of the brand? BK’s marketing in recent years has been a series of edgy ideas, none of which linger long, usually with the King as the connective thread. I was at a talk where BK’s CMO discussed the approach, which is an effort to get away from the wholesome McDonald’s marketing that has dominated fast-food’s TV image.

    I resist the whole idea that clearly-identified fake characters have no place in social media. Knowing full well it isn’t really him, I’d still engage in twittering with South Park’s Cartman, especially if I knew that Parker and/or Stone were behind it. Similarly, let those who want to converse with the King do it; the rest of us are under no obligation to follow @thebklounge.

    Transparency is the key. As Scott Monty notes, the account bio should indicate who’s really talking.

  28. […] King’s @theBKLounge promotion on Twitter heated up this debate just today. I think the answer lies in differentiating among the different kinds of activities inherent to […] on January 15, 2009 at 11:36 am Jason Falls …Original post by unknown […]

  29. After reading Rick’s excellent coverage and the amazing discourse above my comment here, I feel everyone is debating the wrong issues.

    First, @theBKlounge is not a brand. It’s a lounge. @BurgerKing would be a brand. @Whopper would be a brand. A lounge about a sandwich is silly.

    Second, the bigger question in my mind is why Crispin Porter hasn’t snatched up @CrispinPorter.

    Third, if you want to debate the finer points of whether an agency should ghost-tweet for another company, I point you to the Detroit Pistons (@DETPistons) which is partially tweeted by the team’s communications staff and @TomShea of Weber Shandwick.

    I don’t care for Weber Shandwick’s ghosting here, but at least they admit they share the tweeting with the team. You can read more about the issues here:

  30. […] Burger King and the Politics of Social Media Transparency « eyecube […]

  31. Not that this is my field of expertise or even interest, but I think this is pretty ridiculous.

    As you stated, “The King” is a fictional character to begin with. Whether it’s an employee of the company that “created this fictional character or the company that they hired to perform duties for them, EITHER WAY, it’s not “The King” speaking on Twitter. :/

    Second, WHY would anyone expect “authenticity” from a fictional character? That’s like saying that Bugs Bunny wasn’t actually writing the twitter posts on @BugsBunny.

    Third, that’s why companies or individual SM consultants are hired… To tell companies what to do when it comes to Social Media. Therefore, whether it would have been the agency penning it themselves OR an actual BK employee penning what the agency told him/her to write, it doesn’t make any difference.

  32. […] Burger King and the Politics of Social Media Transparency « eyecube […]

  33. […] will recall my Twitter conversation with @TheBKlounge  and the subsequent discussion on the politics of Social Media transparency that featured thoughts from a whole host of really smart people. Not long after that I started […]

  34. […] is where social media politics come in. Personally I believe it depends on your goals as a company. If you are trying to give your […]

  35. […] Burger King and the Politics of Social Media Transparency […]

  36. […] that has turned out some of the most talked about creative in recent years (I talked about it here, here and here). Recently CP+B had an intern auction on eBay, where brands could bid for the services of […]

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