#AdFAIL: 5 Ways Burger King Gave Mary the Short End of the (Chicken) Strip


Burger King is touting its new menu with celebrity ads featuring late night host Jay Leno, actor and director Salma Hayek, soccer icon David Beckham, and Mary J. Blige, the Grammy(r) winning Queen of Hip Hop Soul. The campaign centers around several new items including: a strawberry-banana smoothie, a garden fresh chicken salad, fried chicken strips, and a 3-cheese (again fried) chicken wrap with lettuce.

I’m posting all three spots here so you can watch them and then, I will break down 5 ways Mary got played, and how Burger King missed the mark.

Here’s Mary’s (it was blocked on YouTube): http://www.directlyrics.com/mary-j-blige-sings-heart-out-for-buger-king-news.html

Leno and Black friend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouxyzwHpwt4

Salma’s commercial, which is in Spanish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xyn5wSDuIY

And smooth operator Beckham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8qz2Ssr6c&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Top 5 Ways Mary Gets The Short End of the Chicken Strip

1. Attitude: of all the endorsers, Mary is the only one who is rude, terse, and invasive. She interrupts the store manager with a sound-check type mic squeal–from ATOP a restaurant table. Leno, Salma and Beckham have sweet, fun dispositions–and are ALL at the counter, like normal people. Mary appears out of nowwhere, mad for no reason, over the contents of a chicken wrap, which she proceeds to outline in a song where she’s not so much singing as belting.


2. Selling the unhealthiest item of them all: The statistics around heart disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension are downright catastrophic for African Americans, especially Black women, who relate directly to Mary. Unlike Leno and Hayek, who get to sell choices that include a smoothie and a salad, she is selling one product: the fried chicken wrap. This is not just stereotypical. It is the use of her well-constructed and hard-won brand to sell Burger King’s least healthy offering to her core audience. I almost wish there was a “please eat responsibly” tag at the end like alcohol ads have. I understand that chicken needs to be advertised like any other product, and that African Americans will do it, from known stars like MC Hammer for KFC to working actors like the Popeye’s pitchwoman. This one-note execution misses a huge opportunity for Mary to offer (or exercise) choice, which is more problematic than the selling of chicken in general.

3. Use/Misuse/(Abuse?) of Talent: Salma Hayek gets to showcase her versatility as an actor; humorous, sultry, even nerdy. Leno gets to be his snarky self, but remains in control throughout his spot, down to literally driving through the location while his Magical Negro holds his meal.

(Oh you didn’t get the memo? Magical Negroes don’t need food; they have their consciences to sustain them and the members of the dominant group they accommodate).

David Beckham doesn’t have to use his talent as an athlete at all! No soccer gear, no kicking a ball at the counter. He gets to be gorgeous and hypnotic for men and women alike. Mary? She has to sing her way through the commercial after busting in on it.

She doesn’t get to be her witty, honest, wise-beyond-her-years, confident self. She doesn’t even get to perform before a throng of an audience in the location’s parking lot block-party style. She’s got a crowd of  about five halfway enjoying the song–because it’s terrible. Where was the well-crafted song about this product, written and or produced by anyone from Pharrell to Stevie Wonder? This whole scene flies directly in the face of Blige’s power and appeal. Speaking of power and appeal:

4. Poor positioning: this ad makes Mary look out of place, uncool, desperate. Attributes I would have been hard pressed to associate with her until now. You mean to tell me that wide, gray Jay Leno looks cooler than MJB, the *only* woman who can say she’s sung with Biggie and Bono, in this campaign?


Mary J. Blige has been a great pitchwoman in several categories: beauty (Carol’s Daughter), automotive (Chevy), and telecom (T-Mobile). All very stylish, elegant representations of a woman who knows and respects herself–and demands as much from the world. All with great uses of her own recorded music; no tired awkward jingles. This commercial feels like something an artist does to get back in the game–but she’s already at the top of hers.

As someone who has written commercial campaigns and done shoots with Beyonce’, Lauryn Hill, and Queen Latifah, I can’t see any of them positioning themselves similarly in a commercial at the heights of their careers and brand value to a corporation. This is not to say they were not pitchwomen: Latifah voiced Pizza Hut commercials and is a Cover Girl. Lauryn Hill wore Levi’s throughout her world tour for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Beyonce’ shook her booty for Pepsi and DirecTV. But all of these moves had a context and ultimately made them look good–or at least like they were in control. Artists at this level shut down creative like this at script phase. This move by Mary has me scratching and shaking my head.


5. Not A Good (Style) Look: A 20-year veteran of music, Mary J. Blige is well beyond style missteps. She has set innumerable style trends, from combat boots in the ’90s to blond wigs in the new millennium. She gave women permission to flaunt their tattoos, bare a gold-capped tooth, uncover facial scars–and still be beautiful.

She made round-the way girls feel like high fashion shades and luxurious apparel was their birthright.

So why–and I want to be diplomatic here because I adore and am inspired by Mary–why is Mary calling to mind wardrobe from the musical Grease in 2012? I honestly thought this was a spoof when I saw it for the first time, largely because of her wardrobe and hair. Mary is a maven, posing at the intersection of street and couture. Except in this commercial.

These observations raise a larger issue: the tone-deaf representation of Black women in advertising. The perpetuation of the stank, sassy, abrasive but entertaining ‘soul sista’ doesn’t reflect who Black women really are: women concerned about their health; parents making food choices for their children; consumers who spend with brands that understand and connect authentically with them. Had Mary outlined the choices from the menu and chosen the chicken wrap from the drive-through in her Maybach, then hummed with joy at the taste of it, I might not be so salty.

Burger King and Mary J. Blige missed a grand opportunity for an #AdWIN here.

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24 Responses to “#AdFAIL: 5 Ways Burger King Gave Mary the Short End of the (Chicken) Strip”

  1. J.O. Says:

    I am so happy to see you touch on this. I’ve been thinking about how companies should be held accountable for the way they portray African-Americans in their marketing and advertising strategies. Things have taken a turn since the Hispanic population has taken demand of advertising $$$. Just a thought and I’m sick of it!! We get no more that .5 seconds in general market commericals or an overweight woman is cleaning or neck-rolling!!! Tired!!!

  2. Shak Says:

    Thembisa… you are so right- they were so wrong! #ADFAIL majorly… thanks for the chuckles

  3. Michael Quake Fisher II Says:

    The argument from the other side will continue to be that these African-Americans can choose not to take these jobs. Sort of like when Sidney Portier refuses certain roles.

  4. M.S. Says:

    All of your points are valid. Hold Mary to a high level of accountability as well. She didn’t have to do the commercial spot and at her level, I’m sure she had some input on how things happened. I’d think before signing up to do a spot, a celeb would have a general idea of how the commercial spot would go. She went along with it…black women look up to her. Where’s her responsibility in this? As much as Burger King missed the mark, we sure are saying and typing the name of their company and helping them promote.

  5. Thembisa Mshaka Says:

    M.S. I agree with you. And for what she was reportedly paid, perhaps she felt she had to take the deal? ($2M) Not excusing letting this creative go any further than an idea on paper…our endorsers have to make smart choices. Was this worth the hit her brand is taking? Time will tell.

  6. Mary J. Blige’s Burger King Controversy of the Day - TDW Gossip - We're just saying what everybody's hearing. Says:

    […] David Beckham have done ads for the same campaign, but Telly Award-winning advertising copywriter Thembisa S. Mshaka points out that Blige ”is the only one who is rude, terse, and […]

  7. therendition Says:

    You have too much time on your hands to be reading into all of this, in this manner.

  8. Eddie Bradley Says:

    I have some question I would like to ask:

    Besides vegans and vegetarians Do you know anybody that don’t eat chicken?

    Why if a black person sing about chicken makes it wrong?

    When have you ever been to a event weather white, black, spanish or any other race and there wasn’t chicken on the menu?

    When have any other race said to you or anybody else reading this status that only black people love fried chicken?

  9. wriggles Says:

    She’s clearly sending up a crude take on her image, showing it up as much by contrast as anything. The fact that many of her fans can’t seem to tell the difference shows that she has surprised people with her SoH. The chicken wrap she’s advertising has-390 calories and less salt than the salad which has nearly double the calories (670) and a higher than the daily recommended intake of salt. I think Leno looks like an arse and DB as a sex toy can only be seen as okay because he has the dignity accorded men, picture it with a woman. The sticky mess he’s pushing comes in at 450 cals.

  10. Thembisa Mshaka Says:

    @ TheRendition: actually, I could spot al of these flaws in the creative within minutes of viewing because I’ve been in advertising and marketing for the last 15 years. I penned this post to help lay people see what they cannot put their finger on, but doesn’t quite feel right about the images they are viewing.

    @ Eddie: Burger King is telling us they think Blacks only are concerned with eating fried chicken with Mary’s ad. Why doesn’t she get to select from a few choices, like Leno or Salma?

  11. Thembisa Mshaka Says:

    @wriggles, thanks for the nutritional info! In the spot they show 2 wraps, taking the calorie count up to 780…and the salad info is troubling!

  12. SpookyWhite Says:

    Thank you Thembisa for breaking it down 😉 There’s too zombies out here who can’t wrap their head around the subliminals being aimed at them and then they want to cop an attitude with you…Keep exposing the mind tricks…folks need to get uncozy…

  13. Matt Says:

    You are a complete moron. There is nothing wrong with this ad at all. Instead of typing driven on the internet…why don’t you go out and buy some thicker skin.

    And since you are so dense…..I’m guessing the fact that MJB IS BLACK!!!! And she was not forced to do the ad!

    Grow up…and flush this P.C. nonsense down the toilet.

  14. Thembisa Mshaka Says:

    Thicker skin? Sure, Matt. That’s why Burger King pulled it, Mary’s former ad agency exec Steve Stoute disavowed it, and Mary herself tried to say she didn’t sign off on it–because the ad is a flawless stroke of creative genius, free of bias, stereotype, or offense. Your comment strikes me as moronic, but I appreciate it–because it illustrates how Burger King thought they could air that nonsense: someone somewhere will think it’s just fine, as you do.

  15. dexterhotel Says:

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  17. Matt Says:

    Burger King pulled it because of sallys like yourself who see everything as racist. This is why this political correct garbage needs to end.

    Did it ever occur to you that BK did the ad because it was funny and different? I have her song as my brothers ringtone (and he’s NOT black)…he just likes to eat.

    You are digging for something that isn’t there. It’s a funny ad…nothing more. But because a small, vocal minority got their diapers in a bunch over it, BK had to pull it to “save face”.

    It’s race baiters like yourself that have created a very hostile environment in the Trayvon Martin case. For no reason other than to cause trouble.

    Grow up. It was a funny ad. Nothing more.

  18. Kyle Says:

    I agree…the ad was pulled because in advertising, perception is reality, and people like you have stirred up the racial waters with blog posts like these.
    “All at the counter like normal people”? You’re right, because normal people drive convertibles through fast food joints all the time. Jay Leno can’t sing, but he owns a massive collection of cars, so they put him in a car. David Beckham can’t do any soccer tricks in a BK, so they show a close up of his face. MJB, hmm, she can sing, and it would be an awkward commercial if she started singing while at the counter and ordering.
    Finally, your point 2 has been completely invalidated, but I’ll just add this little gem…Here are BKs salads:
    CHICKEN, Apple & Cranberry Garden Fresh Salad
    CHICKEN BLT Garden Fresh Salad
    CHICKEN Caeser Garden Fresh Salad
    In the interest of full disclosure, they offer a ‘Garden Side Salad’ without chicken, but its not marketed as a meal alternative. That means that old, grey whitey is also promoting BK chicken…weird

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