How much would a company have to pay in order for you to publicly denounce ten of your friends?
As Burger King has discovered, there are plenty of people that are willing to do just that for a surprisingly small amount: Less than $3, or the price of a Whopper. (In less than a week, more than 45,000 friends have already been sacrificed.)
That’s because Burger King’s new Facebook application, called Whopper Sacrifice, which follows closely on the heels of their highly controversial Whopper Virgins campaign, asks users to take on an equally controversial task: ending 10 Facebook friendships in order to receive a coupon for a free Whopper. Faced with low adoption numbers and high abandonment rates however, this type of application may be just what advertisers have been looking for in order to break through the social networking walls and actually see some success. Plus, a reward (even one as small as a coupon for a free Whopper) goes a long way towards getting users motivated to support a branded and/or sponsored campaign.
To date, most branded applications have relied on the standard practice of forcing virality through friend requests and gift exchanges, and users are encouraged to grow and nurture their online friendships (a marketer’s dream; ever increasing spheres of influence!) by companies that give them the tools to do just that. Unlike an offline friendship however, which is supported by years of relationship building and has strong feelings attached as a result, many Facebook friendships are formed over weak bonds, and these ‘happy go lucky’ campaigns quickly loose their effectiveness after the tenth random knickknack exchange between part-time friends in order to earn points towards an even more worthless achievement or reward. In fact, it’s these applications and their constant encouragement to build up a friend network by inviting new users that may have caused the condition that Burger King’s app relies on in the first place: A friendship glut where a person has more Facebook friends than they would prefer to, but no easy way to get rid of them once they’re there.
Enter: Whopper Sacrifice.
By incentivizing an action that many users are looking to do anyways, Burger King is providing a service that may help their application achieve what other branded applications have struggled with: Quick and sustainable adoption. Users looking for an excuse to clean out their friend list of old and forgotten friendships were in need of a little motivation, and a free Whopper from Burger King may be just enough to move them to action.
As is often the case with Facebook apps, users have a low barrier to entry, but are flooded with so many choices that they have no need to go looking for new applications, and especially ones that feature the branding of a large company. In this case though, Burger King doesn’t want users to stick around, so the success of the campaign is judged by impression numbers and one-time interactions (rather than continued use of the app) much like a typical ad campaign would be. (In fact, once they’ve sacrificed 10 friends and earned a free burger, users may as well remove the app since they will no longer have any incentive to use it.)
According to AdWeek: Crispin Porter + Bogusky thought of the app after many of their staffers were faced with the too-many-friends scenario themselves on Facebook:
“We thought there could be some fun there, removing some of these people who are friends, but not necessarily best friends,” said Jeff Benjamin, executive interactive creative director at Crispin. “It’s asking the question of which love is bigger, your love for your friends or your love for the Whopper.”
Now I know what you’re thinking, and yes, users can probably just remove 10 real friends and then add them right back, or use the app as an opportunity to trim down their list of semi-friends that they once added only to regret at a later time, but either way, sacrificed friends will see a publicly displayed message that their friendship was exchanged for a free Whopper, and feelings are sure to get hurt along the way. (When Facebook says sacrifice, Facebook means sacrifice, and in order to receive your Whopper, the application actually tracks your friends, and only gives you credit towards a free Whopper when you permanently remove people from your list of friends.) In addition, and despite what you might think, Burger King isn’t tricking people into using the app by downplaying the severity of the action. Instead, it says right on the main page and next to the list of potential sacrifices that “Each friend will be notified so choose wisely.”
It’s this no-holds-barred approach that has resulted in a large amount of the press coverage that this campaign has received, so it could be argued that this campaign was a success just based on that fact alone, but even for those that say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, it’s hard to argue that Burger King would want to be painted in the light that many of these articles have shined upon it. However, by commoditizing our online friendships and giving out free food in exchange for morally ambiguous actions, Burger King has managed to spark an intense debate about the value of online relationships, and received more attention than they ever could have imagined as a result.
Update: Apparently Facebook wasn’t thrilled about the way Whopper Sacrifice notified those that had been sacrificed of their sacrificial status, and shut down the notification feature:
“After extensive discussions with the developer, we’ve made some changes to the application’s behavior to assure that users’ expectations of privacy are maintained. The application remains active on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told Inside Facebook. “We encourage creativity from developers and brands using Facebook Platform, but we also must ensure that applications follow users’ expectations of privacy. This application facilitated activity that ran counter to user privacy by notifying people when a user removes a friend. We have reached out to the developer with suggested solutions. In the meantime, we are taking the necessary steps to assure the trust users have established on Facebook is maintained.”
Never one to miss out on an opportunity for some additional free publicity, Burger King altered their landing page for the app to indicate that the Whopper Sacrifice had itself been sacrificed because “your love for the Whopper sandwich proved to be strong than 232,566 friendships”. At the time of the shutdown, more than 82,000 people had used the app to sacrifice at least one friend.
Now I just hope Burger King takes this one step further with a final stunt like a fake press conference featuring The King addressing issues related to the app and its privacy concerns versus people’s love for the Whopper. It might be a risky move, but the potential to blow this up and turn it into a mainstream media story is definitely there and ripe for the picking.
- Unique application serves a pre-existing need of social networking users.
- Small incentives increase the adoption rate of an online campaign.
- Low cost of goods related to the campaign (45,000 Friends / 10 Friends Per Burger = 4,500 Burgers * $3 Per Burger = $13,500 in retail costs)
- Success is based on impressions rather than interactions.
- Social networks include built-in viral tools that help share the message generated by each interaction.
- Morally questionable campaign leads to a lot of negative publicity.
- Limiting the campaign to a single social network reduces the number of potential participants.
- Simple, sometimes controversial social networking applications allow users to interact with a brand while doing what they would normally be doing anyways, and new measures of success emerge as a result.