Everything wrong with Burger King’s ‘Vietnamese’ burger ad

Burger King’s ad for its Vietnamese-inspired burger shows customers trying to eat with a pair of giant novelty chopsticks, to which Asian-New Zealanders ask ‘why’?

It’s a crime against food

Food crimes come in many forms: putting pineapple on pizza, pouring milk before cereal, and cutting bagels into slices like a loaf of bread. But the most of heinous of them all? Eating fast food with utensils. Is eating a burrito with a knife and fork OK? What about a pizza, like Donald Trump does? So why would you eat a burger with chopsticks? There’s a special place in hell reserved for people like that. 

Vietnamese ‘burgers’ kind of already exist?

It’s called banh mi and if you don’t know, you’re really missing out

It’s already been done

Little does Burger King know, showing Westernised food being eaten with chopsticks is so passé. In fact, Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana did it just a few months ago when it launched three short videos on the Chinese social media network Weibo to promote its upcoming Shanghai runway. The videos featured an Asian woman attempting to eat pizza, spaghetti and cannoli with chopsticks. With Chinese folk music playing in the background, a Mandarin-speaking voiceover says “Welcome to the first episode of ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ by Dolce & Gabbana” that’s apparently pronounced in a way that mocks Chinese speech.

Not long after, Dolce & Gabbana was cancelled. And not just internet ‘cancelled’, but literally cancelled when its multimillion-dollar, one-hour runway show in Shanghai was abruptly called off, mostly because Stefano Gabbana responded to the controversy by saying “the country of [series of poop emojis] is China”.

It’s ignorant, it’s lazy, and it’s wrong 

All joking aside, the main reason why Burger King’s ad is so wrong is that it plays on lazy stereotypes based on Orientalist traditions. The ad first came to a lot of people’s attention when Maria Mo, a Korean-New Zealander, posted her grievances about it to Twitter.

Within the context of the ad, chopsticks – an everyday eating utensil used by more than a billion people around the world – became primitive, clumsy and, quite frankly, absurd. Their larger-than-life size exaggerates those qualities and plays up the ‘exoticism’ and ‘foreignness’ of Asian things. It’s also weirdly offensive to non-Asian people who are, apparently, the only ones dumb enough to eat a burger with chopsticks just because it’s ‘Vietnamese’.

Even worse, it turns out the ad posted on Twitter is actually part of a longer video promoting Burger King’s new Tastes of the World range. The full 30-second clip not only shows people trying to eat a burger with chopsticks but boxing gloves (for the American burger) and robotic hands (for the Japanese ‘tonkatsu’ burger) as well.

But the biggest gag of all is that the ASA actually ordered the ad be removed last month, not for any reasons involving cultural insensitivity, but because the ad’s final remark (“Just need another three!”) normalised what it believed to be “excessive consumption”. While the ad was pulled from TV screens, the full clip had been available to watch on Burger King’s Facebook page until it was deleted earlier today, shortly after The Spinoff contacted the ASA about it.

It’s clear that businesses like Burger King are in the business of being provocative. In January, Burger King also got in trouble for an ad mimicking drug use, and the month before that it received complaints for showing someone cooking in a car.

We get it, modern advertising is all about being edgy and cool. But an ad showing an ‘Asian’ burger being eaten with chopsticks or robotic hands isn’t even that – it’s just straight-up lazy, like “Chirri Garrick An Prawn Dumpring” kind of lazy, or “sole finger saluting Kimmy Jong” kind of lazy. A lot of people will be angry, but most of us will be tired. It’s 2019: do we really need to be explaining why this isn’t funny any more?


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.