Brands navigate a slippery slope when incorporating current events that are unrelated to their businesses into their social media posts, and Burger King in the U.K. found itself on the downward end of that slope due to a controversial tweet.
According to a BBC report, during campaigning for elections in the European Union earlier this year, several candidates and political figures had milkshakes or other food and beverages thrown at them, including Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, former English Defence League leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (who also goes by Tommy Robinson) and UK Independence Party candidate Carl Benjamin.
In the days prior to an appearance by Farage in Edinburgh, Scotland, two rival fast-food chains took completely divergent approaches, as pointed out by the BBC.
A McDonald’s in Edinburgh halted milkshake sales prior to Farage’s appearance.
The @BurgerKingUK Twitter account, meanwhile, sent the since-deleted tweet pictured above, which read, “Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK. #JustSaying.”
Burger King tried to save face with a follow-up tweet, according to the BBC: “We’d never endorse violence—or wasting our delicious milkshakes! So, enjoy the weekend and please drink responsibly, people.”
However, that was not enough for U.K. regulator the Advertising Standards Authority, which told the BBC it received complaints from 24 people that the tweet was irresponsible and offensive because it encouraged violence and anti-social behavior.
The ASA issued the following statement, according to the BBC: “Although we acknowledged that the tweet may have been intended as a humorous response to the suspension of milkshake sales by the advertiser’s competitor, in the context in which it appeared, we considered it would be understood as suggesting that Burger King milkshakes could be used instead by people to ‘milkshake’ Nigel Farage. We considered that the ad therefore condoned the previous anti-social behavior and encouraged further instances. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible. We told Burger King to ensure that its future marketing communications did not condone or encourage anti-social behavior.”
Burger King did not respond to a request for comment, but a spokesman for the company told the BBC, “Our tweet regarding the situation in Edinburgh was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the situation. It appears that some have misinterpreted this as an endorsement of violence, which we absolutely reject. At Burger King, we totally believe in individuals’ right to freedom of expression and would never do anything that conflicts with this. We’d never endorse violence or wasting our delicious milkshakes.”
Twitter declined to comment on the issue.
As for Burger King, the ASA ruling amounts to less than a slap on the wrist, with the removed tweet being roughly four-and-a-half months old.