By Jeffrey Self
Originally published on Advocate.com September 01 2014 4:00 AM ET
This summer Burger King premiered the “Proud Whopper” in celebration of Pride, and the project was publicized nationwide in press releases, in videos on Burger King’s YouTube page, and in interviews in mainstream media with the company’s marketing executives. Proceeds of that burger’s sales were donated to an LGBT college scholarship fund. Pretty cool, right? Alas, the burger was available only at one location in San Francisco, the promotion ran only until July 3 (the press release The Advocate received was dated July 2), and while the company has supported LGBT events in some cities before, it appears to lack any substantial commitment to LGBT equality. It still maintains a low HRC Corporate Equality Index rating of 55 (out of 100), does not offer trans-inclusive health care benefits to its employees, and has no upper-level LGBT corporate programming.
In an interview with USA Today, Fernando Machado, senior VP of global brand management, said that the burger “showcases who we are as a brand. It shows how we, as a brand, believe in self-expression.”
Is one burger, available at one location, a valid showcase? Many customers reported that when they asked what the burger actually was, employees couldn’t explain it. One customer asked in video footage captured by the company’s Web site, “Do gay people even eat fast food?”
The Proud Whopper was, in fact, exactly the same as the regular Whopper except that it was wrapped in a rainbow paper; inside the wrapper text read, we are all the same inside. It’s a clever, sweet message. Support should always be welcome, unless it’s mere marketing luring LGBTs to spend money on a company that does not live up to its claims.
When LGBT consumers are more conscious of their buying power, and many are making decisions to spend money at companies that promote equality aims (or don’t stand conspicuously against them, e.g. Chick-fil-A), it’s difficult to tell whether Burger King stands by its fairness message and just hasn’t made the leap to get there in corporate terms, whether it’s a crass bid for gay dollars, or whether it’s an attempt at keeping criticism at bay.
If Burger King wants to prove its stance on LGBT rights, it can. A real demonstration of support, apart from working to make the corporate environment as equitable and progressive as its rainbow wrapping, could also have included making the Proud Whopper available at every one of Burger King’s locations across the United States—not just in a city with one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world.
And how cool would it be if a kid could get a Proud Burger in a Kid’s Meal — with a free toy? (It needn’t be a mini-Cher Barbie, but personally, as a kid, I wouldn’t have minded that so much.)