You can't make this stuff up. Earlier today, Burger King released an ad in which a uniformed Burger King employee, after lamenting that 15 seconds isn't long enough to describe the great ingredients in a Whopper, leans in to the camera and says, "OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?"

Watchers' Google Home devices, Android watches and phones (depending on their settings) promptly sprang to life and responded with Wikipedia's entry on the Whopper burger, just as Burger King wanted them to. According to The Verge, for the past decade or so, the Wikipedia Whopper entry has begun, "The Whopper sandwich is the signature hamburger product sold by the international fast-food restaurant chain Burger King and its Australian franchise Hungry Jack's." Shortly before the ad aired, that first sentence was rewritten to begin, "The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100 percent beef with no preservatives or fillers..." continuing on with a list of the burger's other ingredients.

To all appearances, that edit seems to have been done by a Burger King marketing exec, although the company has not confirmed that it was, probably because doing so is against Wikipedia's policies. But anyone who wants to can edit a Wikipedia entry.

That last fact was Burger King's undoing. The company probably thought its ad was cute and devilishly clever, which I suppose it was. But many people, especially Google Home users were less than amused, particularly since the only way to keep their devices from answering the ad was to disable them completely or hold down a button every time the ad aired.

Some of them apparently took their annoyance to Wikipedia...where anyone can edit an entry. And so, according to The Verge, for a brief while, Google users who heard the ad were told by their devices that the Whopper contained things like toenail clippings and rat. Shortly after that, the Wikipedia entry was returned to its original form--before the list of ingredients was added--and locked for editing.

Google hasn't commented beyond saying that it was not involved in the ad. Several news sources reported this afternoon that Google has blocked the ad from activating its devices. However, my Inc. colleague John Brandon and I both find that the ad still activates our Google devices. Oddly, despite the change in the Wikipedia entry, my Android phone still lists the Whopper's ingredients in response.

Even so, this amounts to a cautionary tale in this age of voice-activated devices and increasingly intrusive advertising. There's a narrow line between being applauded for doing something very clever and being excoriated for doing something very obnoxious. Burger King is on the wrong side of that line.

Published on: Apr 12, 2017