None of Their Business

Meghan Gardner

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Has anyone not seen that Burger King video about bullying? If you haven’t, you really should. Because it’s not just a heartwarming (and yet still somehow funny) spot about how we all need to help one another stand up to bullying—whether the target is a kid or a burger.

It’s also a look at why companies bother taking on issues that, on the surface, have nothing to do with their business. Promoting an anti-bullying message isn’t obviously good for Burger King: just because people like the message, doesn’t mean that those people will buy more Whoppers, right?

Interestingly, the video isn’t being called an advertisement—according to news sources from Time to GQ, it’s a Public Service Announcement (PSA). That moniker is usually reserved for content produced by organizations like the AdCouncil and nonprofits who cannot afford multi-million dollar ad buys but need to reach a broad audience with a powerful message.

This is a different animal. Similar to the now-legendary “Like a Girl” campaign from Always, the new Burger King spot connects a big issue that affects many young people to its products: the actors portraying bullied kids are eating in a Burger King restaurant. But unlike #LikeAGirl, BK’s anti-bullying video isn’t implying that consuming their products will help those who have been the targets of bullies. Rather, it focuses on making those who would be silent think more carefully about what silence really means.

There’s an old expression about how good people staying silent is all it takes for evil to triumph. In the 90s, that expression was truncated to the powerful Silence = Death Project that brought awareness to the AIDS crisis in the U.S. and helped give rise to the gay pride movement. But that was a grassroots initiative sparked by massive upheaval. Burger King made a single video that captured the power of a modern distribution channel to spark mainstream conversation about bullying. It’s a corporation using the tools of an upstart movement to deliver a powerful message.

Will that message be successful? Hard to tell—we don’t know what Burger King defines as “success.” Increased burger sales? That’s doubtful—the video sends viewers not to a landing page with coupons or a place to share their story, but to NoBully.org, a small San Francisco-based nonprofit.

Could it be that the brand value here really is the simple act of doing the right thing? Is Burger King like the young woman in the video who moves her tray to sit with the bullied boy? Can a corporation really do the right thing, and not measure the outcome in sales and profits?

I like to think so. I’m pretty cynical, but dammit Burger King, I think you’ve got me. And I’m a vegetarian.

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Meghan Gardner

Senior Vice President, Strategy

Strategy