Burger King Hijacks Home Gadget for Ad

John Lister's picture

Burger King has cheekily used a Google gadget to advertise its products. But the way it did so is pretty risky and could easily backfire.

The stunt came in a television advert that contained a command for Google's Home device. That's a voice activated speaker that lets the user ask questions, control home devices, set alarms and other useful (and sometimes purely trivial) activities.

While similar technology exists on many Android phones, those are usually set to recognize and respond only to the user's voice, including listening out for the trigger phrase "Okay Google" spoken before the command. However, because Google Home is designed for use in a household by multiple people and is not yet able to distinguish between voices, it's often set to respond to any voice that clearly states the phrase.

Gadget Details Whopper Ingredients

The Burger King ad only runs for 15 seconds and involves a man saying there isn't enough time to go into detail but adding "OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?" When the ad aired, the question caused Google Home devices to read out a detailed description of the burger's components. (Source: huffingtonpost.com)

It's not, as some viewers assumed, an advertising partnership with Google. Instead, Burger King took advantage of the fact that for many questions Google Home will simply read out a relevant snippet from a top search result - often from Wikipedia.

Shortly before the ad aired, a Wikipedia user thought to be Burger King's marketing head edited the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper burger so that the first line was the promotional description spoken by the Home device. If it was indeed a Burger King employee making the change, they may well have breached Wikipedia rules on self-promotion. (Source: theverge.com)

Wikipedia Use Could Have Downside

The big problem with the stunt is that anyone can edit Wikipedia. Several people have noticed that if you edit the Whopper page, Google will pick up the change within a few moments and if you then play the ad, it will now read out the edited text. While Burger King was careful to make sure the correct text was in place when the ad originally aired, it's possible people might see the ad later on, for example when watching on a PVR, leaving the risk that the Google Home might read out a negative or offensive message in response to the ad.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you impressed by Burger King's creativity? Do the risks outweigh the benefits? If you owned such a device, would you be annoyed by such an ad taking advantage of it and would that give you a negative impression of the brand concerned?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I'm not sure why Wikipedia doesn't have some sort of moderation in place which prevents changes like this from happening immediately. I suppose in order to make a change like this and to have it set live would require user authentication and some sort of access (or status), even without moderation. I have not made any editorial changes to Wikipedia myself, so I can't say for sure how this works - but something has to be done about malicious use like this.

doulosg's picture

I may not be understanding this, but I don't see Wikipedia as the problem. It sounds like an example of the nascent "Internet of Things" and the growing interconnectedness of all the devices around us. Yes, it is a clever ploy by Burger King, whether it violated any Wikipedia rules or not. But what happens when that cleverness is taken to the next level by people with more nefarious intent. People will need to be very careful about what they (eventually) allow devices like Google Home to do.

RobinUK's picture

Is there any evidence that Google Home users actually heard any of the more creative wikipedia edits? My guess is that it only updates its cache from time to time. A glance at the wikipedia 'Whopper' edit history suggests that the Burger King 'official' attempt to insert their ingredients only lasted 18 minutes on 4th April, and an only mildly 'hyped' version of the ingredients list was in place by the time of the ad. The 'alternative versions' then started being added and reverted at some speed. Within 24 hours the page had been put under semi-protection, so only established, logged-in editors could alter it, which calmed things down, except for the in-depth description of the controversy later on in the article. The article also claims that quite quickly Google disabled the ability of the Ad to activate the gadget. As a case study on an advertising trick it is quite interesting, but I can't decide if Burger King, Google Home or Wikipedia emerge either better or worse from the experience - other than the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. My guess is that they won't try it again, but it may have alerted a lot of other companies to the value of Wikipedia's first paragraph.

ecash's picture

Interconnection of devices IS NOT always good..
Iv mentioned to customers and friends the ideas of HOW/WHY/WHEN you interconnect things, and HOW they can go wrong.
I also tell them to WAIT...lets see what happens..
from SMART TV, to a Frig that KNOWS whats in it, and tells you what you need to buy..AND NONE have very secure access..
A smart TV with a camera in it, that can be REMOTE hacked??

A small trick on youtube is NOW. Where the HOST Yells out a interactive VOICE access name..GOOGLE/SERI/.. .. and they see what happens..

There is little that can restrict these devices to CHOOSE who it listens to.. Your KID/BABY/neighbor/brother/Robber could all call out the device and have it respond..

Im waiting for security systems with this..

BT light bulbs..
BT door locks..

1 other thing that gets my goat...Is devices that REQUIRE the internet. When a Cheap computer could do the job, in your HOME.. From security systems to HOME remote controls..

ecash's picture


According to the complaint [PDF] filed yesterday in a federal court in Illinois, when owners of Bose wireless headsets use the Bose Connect app on their smartphones, it collects the information about the songs you listen to and allegedly transmits this data — along with other identifying information — to third parties.