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Burger King Teaches You How to Do Cause Marketing Wrong

We are in the era of the “silence, brand” meme. And rightfully so.

This shoddy-looking, brand-mocking meme gained traction as more brands launched cause marketing campaigns on social media around topics they’ve never spoken on. People are seeing this less-than-authentic content as a stunt to pander to the masses and make more money.

People on social media are creating content, like the “silence, brand” memes, to tell brands to stop talking about topics outside of their scope of knowledge or relevance.

Audiences are telling brands to stop talking topics outside their scope of knowledge, says @millanda Click To Tweet

Should this scare brands away from taking a stand about anything?


Should this inspire brands to take pause and seriously consider what it is they’re trying to say and how they’re saying it?


Let’s use Burger King as a case study of what not to do in cause marketing so you can create an authentic campaign – no matter what industry you’re in – while avoiding massive backlash.

What is cause marketing?

Brands can get involved with causes in a variety of ways, but for the purposes of this article, cause marketing is any marketing campaign focused on a social issue.

Cause marketing has become trendier in the last several years because brands recognize that consumers (and millennials in particular) often consider a brand’s values before buying.

It’s perfectly OK to want to contribute to a cause and make money simultaneously. The important thing is that your brand sincerely wants to play a role in benefiting society without exploiting the cause solely to make more money.

Burger King and #FeelYourWay

Burger King launched a cause marketing campaign called #FeelYourWay on May 1 for Mental Health Awareness Month. The fast-food brand partnered with an organization focused on the issue, Mental Health America.

The campaign definitely sparked emotion among viewers. For me, as a growth marketer with a mental illness, this campaign really hit home. Let’s dissect it and explore what Burger King did right and what it got quite wrong.

1. Is the cause related to the brand’s core mission?

Mental health is clearly not tied to Burger King’s core brand, as noted by these Twitter replies:

Mental health is clearly not tied to @BurgerKing’s core brand. It’s the wrong cause for them to market. @millanda Click To Tweet

Out of curiosity, I looked at Burger King’s website to see what it said its mission was. I spotted this sentence: “Our commitment to premium ingredients, signature recipes, and family-friendly dining experiences is what has defined our brand for more than 50 successful years.”

That’s a great mission. But for the cause to qualify as being tied to this mission, it would need to relate to fostering an environment where premium ingredients can be used or perhaps evolving their locations to be more family friendly.

Instead, Burger King made the interesting choice to go with mental health. I agree it’s a critically important issue (and one near and dear to my heart), but as many consumers called out, it’s an odd conversation for a fast food restaurant to insert itself into, especially since emotional eating is a thing.

2. Is the brand putting its money where its mouth is?

Are you supporting this cause internally?

People on Twitter wanted to know. What does Burger King do for its employees that supports its claim to care about mental health?

And Burger King got called out.

3. Is the brand directly selling something in the campaign?

In my opinion, this is where the Burger King #FeelYourWay campaign failed the most. When I watched the ad, I thought, “This doesn’t seem as terrible as everyone says it is. They’re just part of the ongoing conversation to de-stigmatize …” Then the “Unhappy Meals” appeared.

Once I realized Burger King was offering a new product, my impression of the ad changed. Now I felt they were just trying to cash in on an important conversation.

.@BurgerKing was just cashing in on an important conversation around mental health, says @millanda. Click To Tweet

Don’t be the next Burger King

Check your impulses when you have a fantastic idea for a cause marketing campaign. Make sure it aligns with the organization’s true priorities and that you’re ready to stand up for those values.

Then, when you’re using your brand name to do some good, you – and your audience – will feel good about it, too.

Learn what to do – and what not to do – to improve your content marketing success. Subscribe to the free weekday CMI newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute