Google Did Not Let Burger King Have Its Way With 'Intrusive,' Voice-Activated Whopper TV Ad

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By Mae Velasco, Associate Editor

Have it your way? Not so much. Google was quick to not let Burger King have its way and shut down the burger chain's latest TV ad called the "Connected Whopper." While Burger King has hit the ball out of the park with creative ads through DAVID The Agency in Miami, this recent stunt left many calling foul. The commercial begins with an eager actor saying, "You're watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper Sandwich."

How did the actor save the day? His next words were: "Okay, Google, what is the Whopper burger?" The phrase "OK Google" is a trigger that prompts the assistant device, Google Home. Google Home then reads off the "definition" of the Whopper and its list of ingredients from the top search result, in this case, Burger King's official Whopper Wikipedia page. This breaking the fourth wall from a TV ad and tapping into a consumer's smart tech at home seems ingenious at first glance, especially in this new age of interactivity, but in the brand's effort to push the boundaries on consumer interaction, did Burger King become annoyingly invasive?

Google Home devices all across the country were forced into reciting a long explanation of the Whopper burger, leaving viewers in an unwanted cacophony of noise among their other devices. While a few praised this "disruptive" approach, most considered this "somewhat intrusive marketing ploy" — activating their devices without their permissions — as frustrating. (Even if internet trolls took a grand, humorous opportunity to toy with the brand, editing the Whopper's Wikipedia page and making it so that OK Google would read off "toenail clippings" and "rat" as part of the burger's ingredients.)

Google and Wiki Give Whopper Ad a Whopping Rebuff

Of course, not wanting to be an unsolicited advertiser, Google shut down the ad's ability to trigger OK Google — twice, after Burger King edited the ad with a different voice. (OK Google still responds to prompting by the private, at-home user, though.) Wikipedia, also not pleased with being roped into this advertisement, locked the Whopper page from editing and signed an open letter, calling for Burger King to apologize for inserting ad copy onto the site and breaking several site rules.

But while all that Burger King drama is said and done, and up in as much flames as the brand's flame-broiled patties, this just opened the door to possibly a new era of advertising. With today's ad blockers and personalized network streaming, it has become increasingly difficult for advertisers to reach their customers, particularly those customers make a clear effort and priority to avoid them. Could voice-activated ads potentially be a new portal for companies to reach their target audience — even if their audience doesn't want to be reached?

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What Voice-Activated Ads Could Mean for Marketing

Even if consumers don't want to be coerced into a brand conversation, this is hardly the first time an ad has "hacked" voice-activated assistants. Google itself accidentally triggered Google Home devices with its recent Super Bowl ad. And some Amazon Alexa users fell victim to the device hearing its name on TV, which led it to begin ordering unwanted dollhouses. While those instances were unintentional, Burger King is arguably the first to hack the system on purpose, if the ad's YouTube video description saying "Turn up the volume before playing" doesn't already make it clear.

Before discussing advertising best practices, if voice-activated marketing is to be a new field for brands to play on, it's important to consider the devices involved. Would companies choose one over another? In this case, why did Burger King choose Google Home over competitor Amazon's Alexa, or Apple's Siri? Is Burger King targeting a certain segment of its audience? Did consumer analytics reveal a strong percentage of Android users in the burger chain's customer base? Or did Google Home just perform better in search function when it came to defining the Whopper? 

In a few tests by Forbes, examining devices such as Google Home vs. Alexa and Siri vs. Alexa, Google Home had a higher chance of being responsive and accurate when it came to answering random questions, possibly because of the access to Google's bank and arsenal of information. (Not surprising — the word "google" itself became a verb for research, an enemy to encyclopedias.) Would Google Home be the prime choice for most companies interested to experiment with a similar ad, especially with how promising Google Home is looking with 12 more partners added to its roster?

And for those companies looking to marry paid media with voice-activated search, what are the rules? How can smart home device manufacturers navigate around this kind of advertising? iCrossing VP of Owned Media Scott Linzer told Adexchanger that perhaps manufacturers could program it so devices can ignore TV and video triggers, or penalize advertisers who don't comply.

“There have been no guidelines about how these opportunities should be governed,” he said. “It’s incumbent on platforms to put in place best practices with their advertising partners, so that it’s a seamless consumer journey as opposed to a stunt. ...That can cause some challenges in the connected house, which shows that these devices can be hijacked to a certain level.”

The "Connected Whopper" Burger King ad may have sizzled, but perhaps it was not all in vain. The video has almost 4 million views on YouTube and people are talking about what goes into a Whopper — something that would not have been a trending discussion before. So, are voice-activated ads the future or marketing? Or is this a ploy and explosive trend that will rise and die out as quickly as rainbow bagels? Only time will tell.