BK’s Choice: Clever Over Clear

When Creativity Misfires

“Women belong in the kitchen…”

…read the first tweet. The second and third didn’t matter. We’re a culture that reads headlines and skips over the rest. If there was a creative brief behind the choice for Burger King to attempt breaking through into culture by using a “clever,” made you look tactic — it probably included a cultural truth that you have a brief moment to capture people’s attention, but it disregarded how, once you have it — if you aren’t clear, there’s a good chance your actual message will be lost. And that’s what happened when Burger King attempted to draw attention to International Women’s Day. But as is the theme with this publication — the tactic of a provocative (and intentionally misleading tweet/headline) is by design.

And that is the problem.

When we choose clever over clear — we take a calculated risk. If the degree of our cleverness is understood by enough people — we’ll be seen as smart and maybe even cool. That is what most brands like Burger King are grappling with. They are a brand that needs always to be culturally relevant, and in that pursuit — to be consistent with an irreverent “brand voice”, the decision is made to take on an emotionally charged societal issue (gender equality) and treat it “on brand”. But we lose something when we put creatives in charge of our social impact communications and initiatives.

Take Burger King CMO Fernando Machado’s related Tweet:

Fer Machado @fer_machado123

Only 24% of chef positions in US are occupied by women. That’s why the BK Foundation launched a culinary scholarship program to bring more women to leadership positions in the industry. Women belong in the kitchen if they want to work there. And hopefully in leadership roles.

March 8th 2021

27 Retweets183 Likes

In the eyes of a certain creative, the problem is that the story, while rich in substance, lacks sizzle. Will anyone care about a statistic or another corporate “foundation” initiative? People are skeptical, and with corporations, who often either go through the motion or overplay their hand on social impact initiatives — there’s good reason for this. So the answer becomes…

…grab them by the attention span

And be clever about it. In this case, it backfired — and truth be told, it was equally as lazy as it was “clever.” To take a meat and potatoes program such as what the Burger King Foundation is doing and to make people care about it would take even more effort to tell the human stories associated with it, to make them interesting to the average person and to get them to care. It would probably take some significant media dollars.

A provocative headline — in contrast, could be more cost-efficient and maybe even get people talking. There’s no such thing as bad press, right? Ask that question to the English monarchy.

Clarity doesn’t have to be dull or unemotional — years ago, REI was very clear when they took a provocative stance to close stores and encourage their customers to #OptOutside. It, too, was designed to start a conversation. But it had both clarity and commitment to back it up. And when it comes to matters of social impact, it’s better to prioritize clarity and commitment over cleverness.