Wikipedia Editors Ask Burger King to Apologize for its Google Home Stunt

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A still from a Burger King ad designed to trigger viewers' Google Home personal assistants as it ended.
A still from a Burger King ad designed to trigger viewers' Google Home personal assistants as it ended. Credit: Burger King

Burger King made waves last week with an ad that prompted Google Home devices to read off a list of ingredients from the Whopper article on Wikipedia. Now, some of the online encyclopedia's editors are accusing the burger chain of editing the site with "hidden ads."

An open letter on Wikipedia, signed by nine editors, said the burger chain's corporate employees inserted ad copy onto its Wikipedia page, breaking several of the site's rules. According to the letter, the complaints were sent to Burger King and others on Tuesday.

The letter says Wikipedia forbids advertising, marketing or promotional material; requires paid editors to prominently post the fact that they are paid, as well as who is paying them; and discourages editors with a conflict of interest from directly editing an article. Anyone can write or edit most Wikipedia articles; administrators and others are responsible for monitoring the site. The editors of the letter said it represents their own views and don't necessarily represent the views of the Wikimedia Foundation or of the entire community of Wikipedia editors. Wikipedia could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Update: The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia, said in an email after this article was initially published that editorial decisions on the online encyclopedia are developed by volunteer editors, not the foundation. A spokesman said the foundation could not speak on behalf of the volunteer editors, but shared a comment on the community-developed policies referenced in the letter. "These policies have been developed over the years by volunteers to ensure that Wikipedia remains neutral, reliable and non-promotional," the spokeswoman said in the email. "Editing an article on behalf of one's employer or company can create a conflict of interest and could risk Wikipedia's reputation of neutrality.")

The editors' letter says Wikipedia users "Burger King Corporation" and "Fermachado123" -- which sounds similar to Fernando Machado, Burger King's senior VP-global brand management -- edited the article to read "The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100% beef with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, and mayonnaise, served on a sesame-seed bun."

The letter also claims a user from The Verge added "medium-sized child" and "cyanide" to the ingredients list on the Whopper Wikipedia page before the commerical aired. Those edits were apparently removed quickly, but were referenced in a Verge story published last week.

"The English language Wikipedia is viewed about 8 billion times each month. Unfortunately this attracts unethical advertisers, such as Burger King, to put hidden ads into our articles," the letter reads. "We believe that these actions are harmful to our readers and our mission of provided high quality and neutral information to all people."

The letter asks that Burger King and The Verge (and parent Vox Media) apologize to Wikipedia's editors and readers and agree to comply with the site's terms of use. It also asks that Burger King's parents, Restaurant Brands International and 3G Capital, ensure similar incidents aren't repeated.

Burger King did not immediately respond to a request from Ad Age to comment on the letter.

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