The untold truth of Burger King

It's tough to imagine a world without Burger King, a place where you can go to satisfy the craving for something meaty, salty, filling, and fast. Whopper or Big Mac is one of lunchtime's oldest debates, and even if you fall firmly on the side of the Whopper, there are still probably some things you don't know — or don't remember — about this American favorite.

Did you know, for instance, it wasn't always called Burger King? The chain started out in 1950s Florida, and it was called Insta-Burger King after one of their key pieces of equipment: a stove called the Insta-Broiler. When the Insta-Broiler went the way of the dodo and was replaced by the now-famous flame-broiler, the name didn't make much sense any more. It became just Burger King in 1961, and it wasn't long after that the so-called Burger Wars began. So, what else don't you know about this fast food giant?

The Whopper Sacrifice was brutal

It's not enough just to get the word out about your product, successful advertising means making people want to buy it. That's a tough thing to do in the ever-changing landscape of public opinion and social media, and in 2009 Burger King's ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky decided to use Facebook as a platform for some bizarre viral marketing. They created an app that awarded people a coupon for a free Whopper... if they deleted 10 people from their friends list. No big deal, right?

What may have been all in good fun turned a little dark. The app also sent messages to anyone who found their friend status on the chopping block, letting them know their friendship was valued at less than one-tenth of a Whopper. Ouch.

Facebook shut the app down after only ten days, saying it was a massive violation of their users' privacy. In that time, CNET says the app was installed on almost 60,000 accounts, 20,000 of those people got free Whoppers, and 200,000 people had their feelings hurt. Suddenly, it's not so fun any more.

Burger King vs. Burger King

Everyone knows what the BK logo looks like, and that makes the black-and-white signs of one Illinois Burger King look that much more out of place. There's a weird story here, and it starts with the Frigid Queen ice cream shop in Mattoon, Illinois. It changed hands in 1952, and when new owners thought they'd have a little fun with the name — "every queen needs a king", Atlas Obscura reports — they called their new burger joint Burger King. They trademarked the name in Illinois in 1959, and even though the other Burger King was already up and running, it hadn't made it to Illinois yet. When it did, there was a huge problem.

It's a classic case of David vs. Goliath, and in this case, the little guy won. Illinois courts ruled that Gene and Betty Hoots could not only keep their restaurant's name, but they were also given a section of Illinois that was just theirs. The larger Burger King was forbidden from opening a location anywhere inside a 20-mile radius of the Hoots' Burger King, and when they approached the Hoots to ask permission to set up shop within the radius, permission was denied.

Their healthy fries tanked

They were called Satisfries, and Time says that even when Burger King rolled out their lower-calorie, higher-price fries, it was with the caveat that sales would determine their ultimate fate. They started appearing on menus in September 2013, and by August 2014, many locations were getting rid of this healthier option.

Satisfries had about 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than their standard fries (and cost more), but let's put this in perspective: the small serving still had 40 more calories than a small serving of standard McDonald's fries.

At the same time they were getting rid of Satisfries in most locations, BK also announced they were going to be bringing back another menu item: Chicken fries. Time Money says this little microcosm of fast food economics is the perfect demonstration of one of the biggest problems in the industry, and that's the healthy being pushed to the wayside in favor of the not-so-healthy — all done under the guise of giving people what they want.

They threw shade at little brother

In 2015, McDonald's turned 60. That's a big deal, but McDonald's is actually the younger burger-slinging sibling, and BK took the anniversary as an opportunity to remind them who had actually opened first — by a whole four months.

As part of McDonald's celebration, they introduced a "1955 Burger" and the tagline, "A Tribute to Where it All Began." It was a nice thought, and The Christian Science Monitor noted that BK's response was as epic as it was discreet. They trademarked "Since 1954" at the same time they trademarked "Be Your Way," and they started putting it everywhere.

That included global marketing campaigns, and in a way, it couldn't have come at a better time. Fox Business says that in 2018, the competition between Burger King and McDonald's hit an all-time high in the Asian market, so of course the new trademark started appearing on their overseas press releases. Take that, little bro!

They created the longest 15-second ad in history

BK has a long history of some weird advertising gimmicks, and in 2017 they came up with the weirdest of them all. The idea was pretty epic, and it involved not just a commercial, but the hijacking of viewers' Google Home devices.

The American Marketing Association credits ad agency David with the idea, and it was basically to film a short commercial featuring an actor asking, "Ok, Google. What's the Whopper sandwich?" Any Google Home device that picked up the audio would answer by reading the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper, and that's a brilliant mind-meld of media, right?

Google definitely didn't think so, and they didn't appreciate having their users devices exploited. The Verge says the ad was only effective for about three hours, until the sound clip was added to the list of things Google Home wouldn't respond to. People had already taken the opportunity to edit the Whopper's wiki to include all kinds of questionable information, proving that even the most brilliant marketing strategies can be trolled, but still achieve the original goals. In this case, it was all about the "talkability", and it definitely got people talking.

Yes, everyone hates the mascot

The Burger King might be the most creeptastic food mascot out there, and if he gives you nightmares, you're not alone. Consumerist took a poll in 2014 to see what food mascots people found the creepiest, and he took almost 20 percent of the votes (also up there with the same percentages were the Quiznos Sponge Monkey and the old version of Ronald McDonald). Add in the fact that a huge number of the commercials featuring the Burger King were definitely nightmare-fuel, and you have a bizarrely uncomfortable mascot. (Waking up to find him in bed with you? Who thought that was a good idea?)

In 2011, Mother Jones reported we could all sleep a little better at night, knowing he was being officially retired in the midst of what BK said was an attempt to refocus their marketing strategy. The King didn't make the cut, but it was only four years later that Consumerist was announcing he was back on the front lines. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on how resistant your nightmares truly are.

You can visit a Burger King sauna

Burger King had a major first in 2016, when they opened the first fast-food sauna. Located in Helsinki, it's not entirely out in left field. Vice's Munchies says there are around 2 million saunas in Finland, catering to a population of around 5.5 million. But there's only one official one where you can go to relax, have an employee take your order, then chow down on a Whopper and some fries while sweating like crazy.

If you're so inclined, you can even rent it out for a private party. There's enough room in there for around 15 people — and their food — and they even sell robes embroidered with the BK logo. You can grab some beer from the fridge, kick back in front of the massive TV, and don't worry, you can also get a shower there afterward. It's surprisingly successful, and it's no wonder. Where else can you get the literal meat sweats?

They weighed in on net neutrality

Net neutrality is a huge issue, and a whole slew of celebrities and companies have entered the fray to weigh in on just how devastating it would be if internet providers were allowed to charge more for faster, priority service.

They translated the issue to their own business model to show just how ludicrous — and frustrating — it could be, with a commercial that asked customers if they wanted to pay more for their Whopper to get it faster (via Variety). Customers paid based on a Whopper's MBPS speed (which they called Making Burgers Per Second), and employees explained that since BK could make more selling chicken sandwiches, they were slowing down how fast customers could access the Whopper. Insane, right? Customers thought so, too.

If that didn't make it clear where Burger King stands on the idea of net neutrality, they even took it a step further. They directed viewers to a petition to help keep an open internet, and it's an admittedly brilliant way to make people aware of the potential dangers ahead.

The bling burger

In 2008, Burger King waded into the fray in the fight of the ridiculously overpriced burgers with a creation simply called "The Burger." Available in just one West London restaurant, The Burger was made with Wagyu beef, Pata Negra ham, Cristal onion straws, white truffles, and Modena balsamic vinegar, and anyone wanting to sample this high-end creation would first need to fork over £95, or around $200 (via Fox News). British papers weren't necessarily impressed — The Guardian condemned The Burger for its carbon footprint and its taste overload — but the stunt still gave BK the record for selling what was, at the time, the world's most expensive burger.

There was more to it than just a pricey lunch and an opportunity for some showing off to your friends, though. All the proceeds went to the Help A London Child charity, an organization that lends a helping hand to children and youth suffering through life circumstances like homelessness, poverty, illness, and abuse. At least that expensive lunch was for a good cause.

What's the deal with those Crown Cards?

In 2008, actor Hugh Laurie sent ripples of shock across the gossip network after making a single, off-hand comment to the London Times. He claimed one of the perks of being a celebrity was having a special lifetime, unlimited, BK Crown Card (via Adage). He claimed other celebrities — like Jay Leno and George Lucas — also had the card, and it was an exclusive club to be in. Bloggers were equal parts shocked, envious, and hate-filled, and they all seemed to forget one big bit of information: before he was on House, he was a comedian.

Laurie didn't actually have one of the cards at the time, but got one after his comments caused an uproar. According to Cherie Koster, senior manager of the chain's Pay It Your Way program, Laurie makes the 12th celebrity to get one of the coveted cards. They're awarded for more than just celebrity: Jennifer Hudson got one after she skyrocketed to fame, because she's a former employee. You can get one, too — on their web site — but you'll need to pay for yours.

You can order a Suicide Burger

Secret menus aren't really secret, they're more accurately described as menu items that aren't on the regular menu. BK has one of those items, and it's called the Suicide Burger.

Hack the Menu says it's an even bigger version of the Triple Stacker, and if your location doesn't know what the Suicide Burger is, you might be able to order it by another name: a Quad Stacker. There are four patties, four slices of cheese, a layer of bacon, and that special sauce that makes a BK burger, well, completely BK.

If that doesn't sound like it's on the healthy side, it's definitely not. There's no official nutritional information for it, but there is information out there on the Triple Stacker. That'll set you back 640 calories, 42 grams of fat, and 940 mg of sodium, and that's bad enough! Just imagine adding more of everything and the inevitable fries and a drink — as long as you're not planning on eating anything else for a few days, you'll still be sticking to your diet.

They're fans of the fisticuffs

There was a ton of hype surrounding 2015's "Fight of the Century," so when Floyd Mayweather, Jr. stepped into MGM there were a ton of people watching... and scratching their heads. With him were Justin Bieber and BK's Burger King mascot — which made us all a bit curious.

Vice's Fightland took a look at this unlikely partnership, and found it goes back a long way. George Foreman was such a fan of the fast food joint he had a training camp right next to a BK, and in 2008, the burger chain sponsored Jamaica's national boxing program to the tune of $500,000. They've supported boxing in New Zealand, too, had an advertising deal with Evander Holyfield, and filmed a commercial advertising their burgers and a hoax product designed to allow for hands-free eating. A boxer was featured in the commercial, and the creepy king even showed up in EA Sports as an unlockable boxer.

They definitely love their boxing, and in 2018 UFC's Conor McGregor teamed up with them — and the Burger King — for a weirdly disturbing advertisement (via Vice). Clearly, they're all about fisticuffs of any kind.

They helped Impossible Foods run out of Impossible Burgers

You wouldn't expect Burger King to be on the cutting edge of changing the way we eat lunch and even the way we think about food, but they totally are. In early 2019, they announced (via Vox) that they were going to be giving the Impossible Burger — the 21st century's most promising meat-free burger — a trial run in 59 of their St. Louis-area stores. It didn't take long — less than a month — for them to see it was a massive success, and they announced (via Vox) that they were going to have Impossible Whoppers in every store across the country by the end of the year.

That's a huge deal. Sure, they're following in the footsteps of White Castle and Carl's Jr., but Burger King? It's everywhere, and if there's anyone that can take meat-free burgers mainstream, it's them.

And according to CNN, it didn't take long. The same week Burger King announced they were going to be selling Impossible Whoppers everywhere, Impossible Foods said they were scrambling to supply the overwhelming demand for their burgers. Pre-BK, they were supplying around 7,000 locations, and with the addition of all BK restaurants, that added another 7,300 onto their distribution, and they needed to do a lot of work by the end of the year to make that happen. The Impossible Whopper, the burger of the future?

Their weird publicity stunt to pay off student debt

Burger King is a weird place: Just look at their mascot, then tell us that king doesn't rule over a slightly dystopian future where his image is broadcast on giant television screens to all the workers, 1984-style.

That got dark.

But that's the feel they gave out when they tweeted something strange on May 22, 2019: "got student loans? what's ur $cashtag?" What followed was a feeding frenzy of people wondering whether or not BK was serious, if they were really handing out money, and if people were going to have to fight for it.

The next day, they answered: "for real tho, we're trying to pay off those loans. introducing Whopper Loans — make a purchase through the BK app for a chance to have your student loans paid off."

That's... good? Bizarre? Both? You decide, but GQ came down firmly on the side of weird. They were skeptical that BK was doing it for any reason save to sell more burgers (and maybe push people toward buying things through their app), but there's no question it came at a time when the student loan problem was a huge one: College graduates were carrying around $1.5 trillion in debt.

You can get a Whopper delivered if you're stuck in traffic

Ever been sitting in traffic and thought, "Man, I wish I had a Whopper right now." Yes? Perfect, because Burger King has heard you and they're working on it.

In 2019, BK announced that the rollout of The Traffic Jam Whopper campaign was a massive success. They had tried it in Mexico City first, and here's how it works:

Say you're sitting in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, and you enter an area that's in a 1.9-mile radius of a Burger King. You can pull out the app, order a Whopper meal, and someone on a motorcycle will momentarily be at your car window with your order. The app also tells you everything you need to know, using real-time data to figure out things like how long you have to place an order before you'll be out of delivery range. According to Nation's Restaurant News, it increased their deliveries by 63 percent.

And yes, this technology is going to be coming to the most congested cities near you. Los Angeles is first on the list. Is it genius, or completely unnecessary? You decide.

They love April Fools' Day

When Burger King announced they were going to be selling those Impossible Whoppers, they did it on April Fools' Day in 2019. Everyone "caught on," thought it was a hilarious joke, and it was — but not because it was a joke.

Because it was true.

It took outlets like Fortune reporting that it was actually true to get people to believe it, and it's easy to see why it was a stretch. Burger King loves a good April Fools' Day prank, and they always have. Take 1998 — that's the year they announced they were going to be making a Left-Handed Whopper, specially designed to be held in the left hand with ingredients balanced to keep from spilling out the side. It was billed as the "ultimate HAVE IT YOUR WAY" for all the long-neglected, left-handed customers, and think no one could possibly fall for that? The Museum of Hoaxes says that on April 1, BK had thousands of customers request the new Whopper.

They've also done a Chocolate Whopper and Whopper-flavored toothpaste, but the best might be yet to come. In 2019, they put out a call for students of all ages to tell them what prank they should play next, and the winner would see it all come to life (via The Drum).

BK is the reason we have Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres has been around for a long time, and strangely, you can thank Burger King for helping her get her big break.

When she talked to Oprah's Master Class (via Huff Post), she told the story of how she got her start. She was living in New Orleans and working all kinds of odd jobs while she explored the possibility that her friends were right and she would make a brilliant comedian. When they all attended a fundraiser, those friends pushed her to get on stage and "do something funny". She didn't have any jokes, though: She had a Whopper, fries, and a shake, and explained to the crowd that she hadn't eaten all day, and hoped no one minded.

She continued: "Then I would say, 'But what I wanted to talk about was...' and then I would take a bite. While I was chewing, I'd put a finger up and then just go, 'Oh, that is good. That's better.' Then I would start the sentence again. I ate the entire meal and didn't finish the sentence."

She switched up the routine after that for some more unexpected bits, but she called them something else. "That's what I did for the first few times on stage. I just did stupid things." Stupid, or brilliant?

They tried to make the McWhopper happen

It's the age-old question: Burger King or McDonald's? If Burger King had any say about it, there was going to be a product that would have let you enjoy the best of both worlds... but McDonald's shot the idea down with an almost brutal response.

In 2015, Burger King extended the flag of peace and took out a full-page ad in The New York Times. They wanted a ceasefire to the burger wars, and they proposed something pretty epic: the McWhopper. There was a catch, though. The burger, they said, would be available for one day only: Peace Day, or September 21, 2015. The idea was to promote Peace Day and education, and that's a pretty lofty goal.

But McDonald's wasn't having any of that. According to Reader's Digest, the ad was the first McDonald's ever heard of it, and the CEO of McD's took to Facebook to decline the offer in a post that included the sentiment that "between us, there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war," then ended with, "A simple phone call will do next time."

So much for peace.

The cost of starting a franchise is shocking

Owning your own BK franchise would be cool, right? Just think: It's essentially unlimited fries, and you can't beat that. 

When it comes to their business model, there's something a little different about them. According to The Motley Fool, they're unusual in that almost all of their locations are owned and operated by franchisees instead of corporate. That happened in 2010, when corporate-owned locations dropped from 1,000 down to only 52. That's strange, because when corporate owns and runs a number of locations in a range of places, it makes it easier for them to get a grasp on trends and customer demands. Still, they more than tripled their cash balance between 2010 and 2014, so it must work.

And some of that might be because it's no small feat to buy into a Burger King. Not only do they require franchisees to pay a $50,000 up front fee to the company, but they then have to shoulder all of the start-up costs. Depending on the situation, that could be well above $500,000. And that's probably why they require all new franchisees to have that $500,000 available to them in liquid assets and a complete worth of at least $1.5 million.

On second thought, it's easier just to order some fries through the app.