Burger King’s Wily Voice-Activating Ad Thwarted by Google (With Some Help From Online Pranksters)

burger king, whopper, ok google

Burger King has transformed a simple TV ad into a mouthwatering engagement goldmine...almost. The fast-food chain would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those pesky kids at Google (and on the internet at large).

Let's back it up: On April 12, Burger King aired an ad in which an actor asks, "OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?" The line was intended to prompt Google Home devices (which are brought online by the words, "OK, Google,") to read a list of Whopper ingredients from Wikipedia, where Google Home gets most of its search results. Never missing a chance to poke fun at major brands online, anonymous pranksters edited the Whopper Wikipedia article to include ingredients like a "medium-sized child," "toenail clippings" and "cyanide." Ouch.

Following the Wikipedia prank, Burger King's voice-activated search effort was halted by Google engineers, who updated Google Home software not to react to the ad. As it happens, Burger King did not consult with Google before airing the ad, which led to Google's swift action.

Amid the blowback, Burger King has seen a fair deal of media coverage around the ad, not to mention social media engagement, probably getting far more eyeballs on the ad than anticipated. Far from being a crisis, it's a good case study in how risk-taking can pay off in cutting through the noisy news and social media cycle. (Case in point: Even Pepsi's tone-deaf Kendall Jenner ad is receiving accolades within the media world).

It might not be a bad idea for brands to start investigating how voice search might be integrated into their marketing efforts. Home devices—and voice-activated search—are here to stay. As long as it's not limited to Wikipedia, of course.

Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz