Documentary director Stacy Peralta captured scenes of Hmong, Inuit and Romanian folks digging into (and in some cases refusing) their first bites of hamburger, served in their villages with an imported BK grill and at a test center. Needless to say, this provoked some controversy.
The campaign does strike a discordant note in this era of cultural and environmental higher mindedness, when the Obama victory has put a prettier, more socially aware face on old Ugly America. So eyes popped and ears pricked up and fingers flew on keyboards when CPB zagged with this... audacious initiative. Like many, I think the campaign is in questionable taste. It has, without a doubt, served its purpose—it's generated immense awareness (and some plaudits among the target audience). The film itself is very watchable—Peralta serves up some lovely footage along with the burgers and it's always going to be fascinating watching this kind of, um, meeting of cultures. I must also say that I've rolled my eyes at the paternalism that seems to linger behind some of the criticism of the campaign (the cultural imperialism thing and the notion that these people are going to become burger crazed with one bite of the stuff and destroy their health and lifestyles). Also, those criticizing methodology and the validity of the test are rather missing the point, I think. This campaign is only nominally about a taste test. It's an experiment of an altogether different kind.
For me, the funny (and not good funny) feeling I get from the campaign has to do with the fact that industrial beef production has typically spelled bad things for places (and, if not these people specifically, people like them) outside of the developed world. When it comes down to it, I'm not sure that just because you can do something, you should.
As you'll surmise when you read the CPB story in this issue, we chose our agency of the year before "Whopper Virgins" broke. Whether it would have affected our decision one way or another, I guess we'll never know.
As for our choice—the knack for getting attention is only a part of why we picked CPB as agency of the year. In the end, against strong competition (the margins of victory seem to get smaller every year as the industry shifts and there is an apples/oranges dynamic to choosing between companies that call themselves agencies) CPB won out for the fact that it just seems a little ahead of the curve on advancing what we know as advertising. What many forward thinking people in the industry are talking about, CPB is doing. Design is a big part of that this year. Read all about CPB's 08 story.