Canadian ad creatives react to Burger King’s not-so-happy meal

Whether it’s dealing with crushing student debt, a lousy boss, or feeling miserable and unaccepted in a small town, nobody can be happy all the time. That’s the premise of the latest U.S. campaign from Burger King, which last week introduced a new limited-time menu item called the “Real Meal.”

The Real Meal comes in a range of moods and colours, ranging from the black “DGAF Meal” to the red “Pissed Meal” and the green “Salty Meal.” It’s a gloomy alternative to arch-rival McDonald’s signature “Happy Meal” that seems perfectly suited to these uncertain times.

Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 4.19.43 PM.png

“No one is happy all the time,” says Burger King in the accompanying #FeelYourWay ad for the Real Meal, which is being sold in select locations in five U.S. cities including New York and Los Angeles. “And that’s OK.”

Burger King says the pervasive nature of social media is putting pressure on people to feel “happy and perfect,” and the Real Meal is promoting the idea of people feeling however they want to feel.

But its decision to tie the campaign to Mental Health Awareness Month feels like it’s striving for the kind of gravitas that’s beyond the reach of high-carb fast food, especially since scientific studies have shown that eating junk food increases the risk of depression.

That was the near-unanimous opinion of creatives contacted by The Message asking for their reaction to the Real Meal and the accompanying #FeelYourWay spot, which nods to Burger King’s classic “Have it your way” positioning. For the most part, they’re not really in the mood to see a QSR tackling such a serious issue. Read their reactions below.

“When I initially saw the BK ‘Real Meals’ packaging pop up in my feed I thought it was another hilarious jab at McDs that’s become so synonymous with the brand’s advertising. But when I saw the video and realized that it was part of a partnership with Mental Health America, I stopped laughing. I mean, is this meant to be funny? It’s a serious topic, isn’t it? Is a burger and fries combo seriously being served up as the antidote to depression? I’m a big proponent of brand actions, but a brand has to have a level of self awareness when it comes to the initiatives it can credibly take on. This just feels like a notorious prankster took on a serious topic and stuffed it through a self-serving tactic grinder.” — Marketa Krivy, co-founder, chief brand officer, Ruby & Foster

“I’ve enjoyed BK’s recent stunts that celebrate the superior taste that comes from flame grilling (showing actual BK restaurants that caught fire from flames; showing actual McDonald’s people barbecuing in their back yards). After all, the flame is what defines them. You can admire this campaign for its timeliness, and how it takes the piss out of the competitor’s iconic Happy Meal. And of course for how it got (ad) people talking for a day or two. But a fast food chain tapping into mental health? I don’t need to identify with BK; I just need to crave their burger. #Notfeelingit.” — Brian Howlett, chief creative officer Agency59

“The execution is well done and highly watchable, and I admire the effort to start a worthy conversation. But it feels like this may be pushing social cause advertising to its breaking point. The link between the brand and the cause is really tenuous, and in fact, studies have shown fast food to be detrimental to mental health. I always admire BK for their bold choices, but I can’t help but feel that this trivializes the issue it’s trying to champion.” — Adam Thur, creative director, Union

“Burger King has a long track record of tying itself to social causes. From World Peace Day to calling attention to bullying, net neutrality, and support for the LGBTQ community. And now, with the new “Feel Your Way” campaign, they attempt to show their support for the world of mental health. Creatively the video is nicely executed, and the tone is refreshing — especially given the subject matter. The jab at the Happy Meal is definitely on brand. But while I’m all for any company of Burger King’s size bringing attention to something as important as mental health, I struggle with this connection. World Peace Day? Two corporate enemies calling it off for one day. Amazing. Pride? We’re all the same under the wrapper. Brilliant. But renaming burger combos and putting a “supporting” super at the end of a video leaves me questioning whether the distance between the brand and the cause is too great on this one.” —Chris Hirsch, partner, vice-president, executive creative director, lg2

I think at first blush we’re all quick to say that this feels “off brand” for the typically irreverent BK… but who’s to say fun brands can’t have a more serious POV? I think we do brands a disservice when we force them into one-dimensional personalities. True personalities are nuanced: funny people can be angry and passionate and serious (ie. Eddie Izzard). I applaud their marketing (for what seems like the thousandth time) for not feedbacking this into a lighthearted or absurd parody of a very serious issue just to “stay on brand.” —Josh Budd, chief creative officer, No Fixed Address




—With files from David Brown

Chris Powell