The Moldy Whopper – Beauty in disgust or some smart ambush move?

Think food ads and one can visualise drool-inducing images of freshly made, piping hot delicious dishes. But Burger King has decided to go the counter-intuitive way in their latest global campaign, unappetisingly titled ‘The Moldy Whopper’. And it is being called one of the smartest campaigns of the year, even as it has induced some disgust amongst the people. 

The ad showcases a freshly made Burger King Whopper burger decaying and becoming moldy over a period of 34 days in a time lapse video to the strains of Dina Washington’s song “What a difference a day makes”. The ad ends with the message, “The beauty of no artificial preservatives”. Well, the enduring image of a moldy burger is no pretty picture. Ensure you have not just had your meal before watching the ad film below: 


Created in collaboration between three agencies – Swedish agency INGO, David Miami, and Publicis, the ad coincides with the decision of The Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, to do away with all artificial preservatives as well as MSG and high fructose corn syrup from its food menu. The ad also takes potshots at rival McDonald’s, where a Utah man recently unveiled a McDonald’s burger tucked away in his pocket and forgotten for 20 years. With two decades gone by, the burger was none the worse for the wear, showing almost no signs of decay. 

This would make two digs that Burger King has taken at McDonald’s in as many weeks. The first was for Valentine’s Day this year with the #LonelyNoMore campaign, where Burger King invited people to click their selfie with McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald, upload it and tag @BurgerKingIndia and get a free Whopper.

Burger King has been trying hard to take on competitors McDonald’s and that could be the reason for a certain fearlessness seen in such ambush marketing moves by the brand. 

‘The Moldy Whopper’ could just be a way for Burger King to score over its competitors. There’s definitely an aspect of memorability in the campaign, which is evoking strong emotions in the consumers and generating conversations. Praising the effort, Vani Gupta Dandia, Founder, CherryPeachPlum, said, “Advertising that evokes strong emotions is sure to be more memorable. After all, one needs memorability like never before in today’s cluttered context. Burger King lands the point very strongly by evoking extreme disgust as an emotional reaction. A food brand using ‘disgust’ to make a point, that too, doing something disgusting to its own product, is probably a first. That’s very brave.” 

Agreeing with this, view, Sangram Surve,  Founder and Managing Director, Think WhyNot, opined, “I think it’s pretty bold to present a decaying picture of your own product. It brings forth the no artificial preservatives USP of the burger in an attempt to win over the organic wave amongst customers. A bit clever, but I guess the ad will do the trick since it is intriguing enough to be discussed over and over again.” 

This bold honesty of the campaign is definitely winning many people over, with people on social media appreciating this fearlessness. 

“Counterintuitive and how!” exclaimed Vistasp Hodiwala, Co-Founder and CCO, Underdog, adding, “This is a phenomenal campaign from Burger King, completely in keeping with its communication stance, which is enlightened and courageous. Here is a brand which truly understands why the greatest risk of all in any business is in not taking a risk when the time cries out for it.” 

Hodiwala further said, “My gut says this may just go down as possibly the biggest international campaign of the year.” 

However, just like two sides of a coin, there are pros and cons. Not everyone is appreciating this move by Burger King, in fact, many are getting put off by the disgusting moldy image of the Whopper and are expressing doubts over whether or not they would be able to have another Whopper burger. As Vani Gupta Dandia explained, “Food sells on appetite appeal. It must revel in and celebrate everything that causes drool. With this extreme strong graphic imagery of a moldy burger, I doubt I’d ever be able to enjoy a burger again, let alone Burger King. All in all, would I do it if I were the CMO? Not even over my dead, moldy body!” 


Himanshu Manglik, Founder and President, Walnutcap Consulting, found the creative “rather strange” and said that it flouted the conventional wisdom in advertising. He further pointed out some aspects that the ad seems to have forgotten:

  • Images linger in the mind, and the wrong image can destroy an ad
  • Food advertising must evoke desire
  • Fast food is really about taste (no matter what consumer insights might say about the trend of healthier foods)
  • Effective ads know the response they must generate

While calling it counterintuitive, Manglik opined, “The ad is an overkill. The molding image lingers and makes people recoil. Everytime I see a Burger King outlet now, I will probably think twice about the freshness of the burgers.” 

Well, moldy or not, Burger King certainly has our attention. And with its smart ambush marketing moves, we are certainly looking forward to the next salvo to be fired by the fast food brand.


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