Burger King asks fans to visit ‘scary’ abandoned restaurants, gets grilled instead

Burger King is celebrating Halloween by taking shots at rival fast food restaurants. Done in collaboration with MullenLowe Group Boston, the "Scary Places" experience takes users to abandoned restaurants where burgers have not been flame grilled for years and allows them to redeem a free Whopper coupon at the end of the "visit". To obtain the coupon, consumers should get within 300 feet, approximately 90 metres, of one of the abandoned storefronts and use the BK app to confirm that they are indeed within the specified distance. Thereafter, they will receive the coupon which can be redeemed in-stores, online or via the mobile app.

"Forget entering a haunted house this year, and get near one of the scary places below to get a free flame grilled treat instead," Burger King said on its Halloween microsite. The locations are in Dayton, Ohio; Johnston, Rhode Island; Birmingham, Alabama; McHenry, Illinois; and Houston, Texas.

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The promotion ends on Halloween and Burger King reminded consumers in the footnote that the places listed are abandoned restaurants are no longer open to the public and located on private property. As such, participants must not enter or trespass.

Burger King is known to take potshots at rival brands. Last year, for example, it mocked McDonald's in Sweden after the latter lost the "Big Mac" trademark it filed for in the European Trademark Court where Burger King surprised consumers with a new menu called "Not Big Macs" for a limited period of time. In fact, also in Sweden and Denmark, Burger King is bringing the myth of Bloody Mary to life. By saying "cancelled clown" three times in front of the mirror in certain Burger King retaurants, the lights will dim and a vision of McDonald's iconic Ronald McDonald mascot will appear. According to multiple media reports including the New York Times, this is done via voice-recognition software.

While the Scary Places campaign did follow Burger King's DNA of thinking out of the box, some netizens on Twitter were not impressed with its execution. In a tweet, one of Adweek's editors David Griner said while he appreciates provocative advertising, he does not love Burger King's Scary Places campaign about abandoned competitor locations in real communities.

"These businesses didn't fail because they sucked. They failed because of economic hardship in cities like my own," he added in a tweet. Using the abandoned storefront in Birmingham, Alabama as an example, Griner said while consumers should visit the place, which at one point was the most populous unincorporated area in America, they should not visit it to mock its economic struggles for a free burger.

In response, Fer Machado, global CMO of Restaurant Brands International which owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, said the reality is that many if not all of those places were closed before the pandemic. "The objective here is definitely not make fun of hardships. Actually, most fast food brands are doing well and growing this year. But I see your point," he explained.

He added that fast food restaurants are opening and closing all the time, and it happens to Burger King everywhere too. According to Machado, Burger King usually has a diverse group of individuals looking at the ideas but nowadays, anything that stands out will get some level of criticism. "It happens again and again. So we tend to not be so risk averse," he explained.

Separately, netizens also commented on Griner's tweet that while they usually love Burger King's campaigns, Scary Places "made [some] cringe a little bit", was "absolutely tasteless", "opportunistic" and "missed the mark". Some also said they were "bummed out" by the latest campaign while others called it "heartless".  That said, there were still a handful which found it interesting. One netizen said it reminded him a little of Burger King's "Flame Grilled since 1954" campaign, while another said "urban exploring is a fascinating and important look into our recent past", adding that it is a cool idea.

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