KFC Gaming was among those taking Burger King UK to task this week over the fast-food brand's misadvised tweet to mark International Women's Day.
The burger chain received a furious response from many Twitter users after it posted the short message “women belong in the kitchen”—apparently to draw attention to the underrepresentation of women in the restaurant industry.
Burger King followed up its initial tweet with another in a thread, reading: “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women.” The chain added that it is launching a scholarship programme to “help female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams".
The account for KFC’s gaming division then tweeted on March 8 an image with the text: “The best time to delete this post was immediately after posting it. The second best time is now.”
In response to KFC Gaming, Burger King replied: “Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry? We thought you’d be on board with this, as well. We've launched a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career.” (This message has also since been deleted.)
However, many Twitter users didn’t see Burger King’s full message. Some agreed with KFC Gaming and called BK’s tweet “bad PR". Burger King UK has replied to some critics, explaining that the tweets were meant to "bring attention to the huge lack of female representation in the restaurant industry".
Fernando Machado, global CMO of Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International, acknowledged that the fast-food brand’s International Women’s Day campaign got lost in translation and it has learned from its mistake.
In the US, Burger King took over a full page in The New York Times with an explanation beyond the “kitchen” headline, but it again was misinterpreted by many readers.
Burger King’s effort is more than just an ad or tweet, Machado said in an emailed comment to PRWeek. “We are basically investing behind the development of women in culinary through the creation of a scholarship programme,” he explained.
In the US, women occupy 24% of chef positions. That number falls to 7% when narrowed down to head chef roles.
“That [the ‘kitchen’ statement] did draw some negative feedback from people who only read the headline,” said Machado. “But hopefully it will continue to shift to positive as people realise the real intent behind it.”
The intention behind the headline Burger King used was to draw attention and, through the explanation of the activity, give some new meaning to it, Machado said.
“Unfortunately when posting on Twitter, lots of people didn’t get the meaning behind it because of the way we posted,” he said. “So it indeed got a bit lost in translation. Learning for next time.”
Machado has been using his own Twitter account to respond to criticism.
Thanks! The image I sent you is a full page in the NYT today. We should have posted diff in the UK. Learning for the next one. And thanks for taking the time to provide feedback!— Fer Machado (@fer_machado123) March 8, 2021
PR pros on Twitter also weighed in on the campaign’s strategy on Monday morning.
Nick Kalm, founder and president of Reputation Partners, tweeted that he could understand Burger King’s desire to be "memorable", given rival Wendy's "well-earned reputation for edginess and snark".
However, "this was poorly thought-out", he said. "Too many people react to initial tweets, and this one came off as tone deaf."
Laura Bedrossian, SVP of comms and marketing for digital services company Terentia, tweeted that it was “clear” Burger King didn’t think about how the initial tweet would “fly” in the current climate.
“It would have been much more powerful to see a genuine, thoughtful post about what they're actually doing to support women, showcasing action,” she said. “It was also poorly executed given the level of misogyny that exists in the restaurant industry.”
Comms consultant Cheryl Dixon told PRWeek via LinkedIn that while she understood what Burger King was trying to do, "people's short attention spans and reactivity require more careful messaging and interpretation management".
This can be seen just by comparing the volume of response to Burger King’s first tweet and the second, she noted.
“In addition, the second tweet makes me wonder exactly how they are empowering women,” said Dixon. “In their own kitchens? I don't think aspiring chefs pursuing a culinary career are working at Burger King.”
Hannah Patel, UK director at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, said via LinkedIn that she was more irritated by Burger King's replies.
“It's like, No. 1, bait women with a contentious tweet; No. 2, mansplain the context to make them feel silly; No. 3, guilt them for having a sense of humour failure,” she said.
Laura Emanuel, VP and director of PR at Brownstein, said via email that the tweet was a "double entendre gone way wrong", and it was even worse because it was published on International Women’s Day.
“If a tweet needs further explanation beyond the tweet itself, then you better copy-edit before publishing,” said Emanuel.
“The initial tweet may have had a positive intent behind it, such as encouraging women to pursue culinary careers, but that is not clear at all. Instead, it's disguised within the stereotype of all stereotypes, and one of the biggest offenders at that. Their intention, a message on equality, only becomes clear when they share their explanation, and by then it is too late.”