Goddess + Meat Sandwich = Very Bad Communication Idea

August 6, 2009

The Hindu religion has a number of deities and all have importance significance for followers.  One of the deities is Lakshmi, the goddess for wealth and beauty.  Lakshmi is depicted as a female who has a golden skins, four arms, and sits on a lotus flower.  Her festival month is October.  Lakshmi is a household goddess for Hindu families and she is a favorite among women.  This is a very basic overview of Lakshmi informed by information from two webs sites:

 (1) http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/index.htm

(2) http://hinduism.about.com/od/hindugoddesses/p/lakshmi.htm

Hinduism is an ancient religion and the third largest religion in the world.  Non-Hindus may know two things about the religion (1) karma, a principle of cause and effect and (2) it teaches vegetarianism.  Not all Hindus are vegetarian but many are.  Historically, US fast food chains have had difficulty in India because of a failure to appreciate importance the Hindu religion places on vegetarianism.  A few small riots occurred when people discovered a restaurant was not frying meat and vegetables in separate frying vats even thought that was the claim by the chain.  Put another way, the Hindu religion does shape culture in a country like India and should be respected.

Consider this recent advertising campaign by Burger King in Spain.  The add shows Lakshmi sitting on top of a meat sandwich.  Even if you have a  limited understanding of Hinduism, does this seem like a good idea?  Some people at Burger King did and protest messages were sent to Burger King.  Burger offered the following response:

“’We are apologising because it wasn’t our intent to offend anyone,’ Denise T Wilson, spokesman of Burger King said in an email when asked about the demand of the Hindu community that the company need to apologise for running an advertisement which its leaders said was offensive to their religion.

‘Burger King Corporation (BKC) values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone,’ Wilson said.

‘Out of respect for the Hindu community, the limited-time advertisement has been removed from the restaurants,’ Wilson said a day after the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in a statement asked Burger King to remove the offensive advertisement.” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Burger-King-says-sorry-to-Hindus/articleshow/4756115.cms

There has been some speculation that the controversy was created on purpose.  Earlier in 2009 Burger King pulled an advertisement over complaints over how it was displaying the Mexican flag.  Some have suggested Burger King is purposefully creating controversial advertisements to generate publicity for the fast food chain.

Questions to Consider:

  1.  How does this case illustrate globalization and its effect on public relations (Chapter 14)?
  2. Some call the situation a crisis.  According to Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) and other principles of crisis communication from Chapter 12, was this an effective response?  Why or why not?
  3. What are the ethical ramifications (Chapter 2) for PR if Burger King purposefully offended people to create publicity?
  4. If you were in a Burger King meeting where the message was presented, what arguments would have made for not running the message?
  5. Which would be better and why:  having to apologize for a poor advertising choice or realizing a bad communication choice and not taking it?
  6. What actions could be taken to prevent a repeat of culturally offensive advertisements by Burger King (crisis prevention)?
  7. What possible justifications, if any, can be given for choosing culturally offensive advertisements as a PR strategy?

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