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Burger King ad featuring its mascot as crazy offends mental health organizations

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2010; C01

Bad week for fast-food mascots. In the same period that RetireRonald.com launched to blast McDonald's clown for luring kids into unhealthy lifestyles, two locally based mental health organizations have been deeply upset by a Burger King advertisement that can best be described as completely bonk . . . er, nut . . . er, cucko . . . er, in poor taste.

The ad in question features the mascot King running maniac . . . er, psychot . . . er, quickly through an office building. He breaks a window pane, gives a befuddled-looking woman a Whopper, then is tackled by two white-uniformed medical types. The King is "crazy" and "insane," the medical types explain, because he wants to give away his meat for the low, low price of $3.99!

"I was stunned. Absolutely stunned and appalled," says Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director for the Arlington-based National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the nation's largest mental health advocacy organizations. He called the ad "blatantly offensive" and hopelessly retro in its depiction of mental illness, adding that the commercial could lead to further stigmatization, the primary barrier for individuals to seek out treatment. "We understand edgy," Fitzpatrick says. "But this is beyond edgy. Way beyond."

David Shern, president and chief executive of Mental Health America in Alexandria, says the ad, which finished its run this week, was "a perfect storm of images and words coming together," comparing it to an advertisement using the word "idiot" while featuring someone who was mentally challenged. Both groups sent letters to Burger King asking that the advertisement be removed.

Mental health organizations have spoken out against ad campaigns in the past, such as Vermont Teddy Bear's 2005 Valentine's product, which featured a "Crazy-for-You" teddy in a straitjacket (because nothing says love like restricted arm movement and claustrophobia). Or a 2007 General Motors commercial in which a robot jumps off bridge after being fired from the assembly line.

Burger King's insensitivity in this particular ad is, of course, only half of the issue. The real problem with the Burger King ads is that the King is a giant freak of nature with a grotesque plastic head, and that sane . . . er, normal . . . er, average people would look at him and be persuaded not to buy a hamburger but to sleep with a baseball bat next to their beds.

When reached by e-mail, a Burger King spokesman declined an interview request but released a statement reading, in part: "The creative concepts used to bring this to life were meant to highlight the King's unchecked enthusiasm about giving his guests a Steakhouse-quality sandwich at a great price and were not intended to reflect any group or situation."

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