WWTT? Burger King’s ‘Real Meal’ Campaign Falls Flat

This week, the home of the Whopper debuted a new line of Real Meals with the tagline that “No One Is Happy All the Time.” Which, of course, got the attention of media outlets, with many claiming the Real Meal campaign is an attempt to troll McDonald’s and Happy Meals. But there’s a bit more to this campaign, and in my opinion, not all of it falls neatly into place, so let’s take a look, shall we?

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and according to a press release from Burger King, the fast food chain has partnered with Mental Health America (MHA) as it debuts the “Real Meals.” President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo of MHA is quoted on that org’s site:

“MHA is very pleased to partner with Burger King. While not everyone would think about pairing fast food and mental health, MHA believes in elevating the conversation in all communities in order to address mental illness Before Stage 4. By using its internationally known reputation to discuss the importance of mental health, Burger King is bringing much-needed awareness to this important and critical discussion — and letting its customers know that is OK to not be OK.”

Yes, it is OK to not be OK … but is Burger King really using its reputation to start and sustain a conversation about mental health? First, this partnership does not mention anything about BK making donations toward mental health advocacy groups or nonprofits. Or, really, doing anything beyond the specialty packaging, video, and social posting. Exposure of an issue is great and all, but funds to help programs to directly support those who deal with the effects of mental health issues day in and day out have a bigger effect, I’d say.

WWTT? Burger King's 'Real Meal' Campaign Falls Flat

Credit: Burger King

Or, as Eater so aptly put it: “Feed your sadness or anger with a Whopper, won’t you? Lexapro can wait.”

The Real Meal options are essentially all the same: a Whopper, fries, and a drink, but they come in one of five boxes, each with a different mood or feeling: Pissed, Yaaas, DGAF, Salty and Blue. Or, translated a little bit closer to terms used when discussing mental health and feelings: angry, elated/happy, indifferent (and/or really angry?), angry/agitated/annoyed, and sad/depressed. However, the Real Meals will only be available in five specific restaurants in five cities (that’s what all the fine print is in the image above).

Again, how does this actually raise awareness about mental health?

According to AdAge, the campaign was created by MullenLowe U.S., and includes the following music video-style short film to support the campaign, which will be aired across social media nationally. The video seems to be the bigger part of the campaign with ties to elevating the issues surrounding mental health, and overall the message is decent … until it turns into a commercial to sell you a burger (that is, if you live near one of the five places where you can buy one).

So we have a campaign running nationally for an existing product that comes specially packaged in a container marked with a “feeling,” but available at only five specific locations across the country … SMH.

The Takeout hits the nail on the head pretty well I think:

“… isn’t this just commercializing emotional vulnerability? Brands Are Not Your Friends™, so how good should I feel about BK telling me it’s okay to be furious or depressed or whatever else? Aren’t they just using my mess to sell fries?”

As for the Real Meals taking on or trolling Happy Meals … they really aren’t. One is directed at children — or at least parents — and the other is, in my opinion, a virtue-signalling attempt to sell a Whopper and targeted at adults, and probably teens — but not children.

If Burger King really wanted to make strides toward elevating the issue of mental health, they would do more than put a combo meal in a box with a cute phrase printed on it. Packaging isn’t going to help anyone in regard to supporting and treating mental illness. Nor do I think it’s a fastfood chain’s job to do so! Burger King’s job is to sell burgers … but if they’re going to act as if they’re using their platform to elevate an issue, then mental health awareness needs to be truly elevated and supported. Not turned into a marketing campaign to sell a few more burgers.

And here’s how some people on Twitter feel about the #FeelYourWay hashtag and Real Meals:

Marketers, what do you think? Is Burger King stepping up and bringing mental health issues to the forefront of the minds of its customers … or making a buck off selling Whoppers to, well, anyone in general (just with some cute packaging in this case). Let me know in the comments below!