Burger King apologizes for black targeted Web commercial featuring Mary J. Blige

(April 4, 2012) Burger King is getting grilled for a Web only spot that has black consumers condemning the commercial across the Internet. The ad features singer Mary J. Blige singing the praises of the restaurant chain's new crispy chicken wraps.

The spot is part of a series of commercials for Burger King's new marketing campaign, which includes soccer star David Beckham, talk show host Jay Leno and actress Selma Hayek. All of them are highlighting the changes in decor and menus. The effort was initiated in part by Burger King recently losing its long-held No.2 position in the fast food category to rival Wendy's.

The reaction, however, to the Blige spot from African-American Web sites and bloggers may have setback any attempt to get more black consumers to patronize the chain.


The commercial was produced by Burger King's recently hired general market ad agency, Mother. Initial criticism came from black sites like Madame Noir, whose writer, Renay Alize, called the commercial "buffoonery."

Blige defended herself from attacks by saying she never saw or approved the final creative execution. "I agreed to be a part of a fun and creative campaign that was supposed to feature a dream sequence," said the singer in a statement. "Unfortunately, that's not what was happening in that clip, so I understand my fans being upset by what they saw. But, if you're a Mary fan, you have to know I would never allow an unfinished spot like the one you saw to go out."

Burger King pulled the spot but said that its removal was due to licensing concerns, not public reaction. In a statement the company said, "We would like to apologize to Mary J. and all of her fans for airing an ad that was not final. We know how important Mary J. is to her fans, and we are currently in the process of finalizing the commercial. We hope to have the final ad on the air soon." 

Ironically, Burger King has, for the last year, been in the process of hiring an African-American advertising agency to craft its message for black consumers. While the company has said that it expected to have a decision earlier this year, any assignment given to a black ad shop now will come with the burden of un-doing the damage created by the Mother ad agency.

The fast food chain's last African-American agency assignment was with the UniWorld Group, but that ended in 2010 when Burger King was purchased by new owners.

Blige is savvy when it comes to marketing. In addition to building a success with her own fragrance line, My Life, she has had award winning-commercials as an endorser. Most recently, she was featured in a critically acclaimed spot for the Chevy Traverse that was conceived and produced by the Sanders\Wingo ad agency.

According to industry figures, black consumers spend about $1.1 billion with Burger King.

Burger King's ad spending in black-oriented media -- about $6 million annually -- has been declining in recent years, trails spending by competitors McDonald's, KFC, and Wendy's.

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