Why People Are Unhappy About Burger King's 'Scary Places' Ad Campaign

Leave it to Burger King to come up with another bizarre Halloween ad campaign. After all, it tends to go for shock value year-round, so of course it would jump all over the one holiday when it's actually appropriate, plus Burger King is always up forĀ trolling the competition. While some Scandinavian BKs are running a "canceled clown" ad that turns a certain red-haired former mascot into a character out of a creepy urban legend, here in the U.S. its running a promo that pokes a little not-so-lighthearted fun at four of their competitors.

The new Scary Places interactive in-app ad campaign urges customers to visit five of "the scariest places on earth," those places being "the terrifying, abandoned restaurants where burgers for years were not flame grilled." It posted the addresses of five different locations: 5196 Salem Ave, Dayton, OH 45426 (Yelp lists this as a former Wendy's), 1350 Hartford Ave, Johnston, RI 02919 (Hours of Operation says it was once a McDonald's), 2408 Center Point Pkwy, Birmingham, AL 35215 (Office Space lists this one-time Sonic for sale at $249k), 522 State Rte 31, McHenry, IL 60050 (Yelp says this used to be a McDonald's, too), and 1602 Farm to Market 1960 Rd W, Houston, TX 77090 (Restaurantji says this Jack-in-the-Box has gone back in its box for good). If you get within 300 feet of any of these locations and click "I AM HERE" on the Scary Places tile within BK's app, you get a coupon for a free Whopper.

Some believe this campaign is a low blow from Burger King

Indignant reactions are pouring in from others in the ad biz, including Adweek editor David Griner who tweeted, "I don't love Burger King's 'Scary Places' campaign about abandoned competitor locations in real communities. These businesses didn't fail because they sucked. They failed because of economic hardship in cities like my own." CNN Business weighed in as well, saying the campaign "could be seen as being in poor taste, given that fast-food companies have permanently closed hundreds of their locations as a result of the pandemic." As Fer Machado, global CMO of Restaurant Brands International (owner of BK) points out, however, "these places were closed before the pandemic."

Reaction to the promo from the general public has been mixed. Some Twitter users thought "It shows bad taste," "this does indeed make fun of hardships with an idea that is remarkable in its lack of empathy," and "This is an insane marketing campaign." Others, however, weren't so critical. One commented "Loving this campaign. Reminds me a little of their "Flame Grilled since 1954" campaign," while another found it a "cool idea," saying "urban exploring is a fascinating and important look into our recent past." Yes, this campaign might be kind of questionable, but that is pretty much par for the course for the always-unpredictable Burger King.