business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I think the new Burger King commercial - which endeavors to demonstrate how few preservatives its hamburgers have by showing one rotting, decaying to the point where it is covered with mold - is disgusting.

I've watched it several times now, and my reaction is consistently the same:  


The Washington Post reports that this is part of a new, global campaign designed to demonstrate "that more than 90 percent of food ingredients at Burger King are now free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and that 100 percent of ingredients are free of MSG and high-fructose corn syrup."

The problem, according to the Post, is that this may be more hat than cattle.

From the Post story:  

"When asked precisely which preservatives Burger King was doing away with, a spokeswoman for the company said that sodium benzoate would be removed from the pickles and replaced with lactic acid; ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) would be removed from the mayonnaise; and calcium propionate would be removed from the buns and replaced with cultured wheat flour."

The Post then talked to Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who described the changes as being more about "public relations then public health."

“They are replacing propionate with bacteria that produce propionic acid,” she said. “Basically just a natural source of the same preservative, but it sounds better. Kind of like using celery powder instead of sodium nitrate to cure meat.”

Lefferts tells the Post  that "the other preservatives they are removing are safe and that consumers are leery of different chemical additives, so companies are responding to that by limiting additives … 'Good old-fashioned added sugar and salt are causing more problems than those that have more unfamiliar names.  Artificial sugars, food dyes — we think companies should disclose which specific ingredients they do not permit. Let’s focus on public health and transparency."

All of which is interesting …  I'm certainly in favor of good public health, but I also have nothing against good public relations.  Deceptive public relations, however, is another story.

But my biggest problem with this commercial - which, it must be said, is doing its job if the goal is to get the brand talked about - is that I think it is disgusting.

I like the idea of food being aspirational and making people feel good about eating it, not repulsed by what happens to the food if it doesn't get eaten.  (I know it rots.  I don't need to see it.)

For me, at least, this commercial is an Eye-Opener.  For all the wrong reasons.