Design / Opinions


Using sex & violence in design: Burger King did it their way

Breaking through the clutter is a difficult task for advertising. Burger King Germany created a Grand Theft Auto style campaign to convey freshness and choice.  But does it work?

Burger King hired German agency .start to create the Veg City cam­paign using Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as inspi­ra­tion. The print, web, and tv cam­paign uses the same com­po­nents that made the video game pop­u­lar (sex, violence, stun­ning comic book graph­ics) to com­mu­ni­cate the restaurant’s com­mit­ment to fresh ingre­di­ents and that con­sumers can wield the power of choice when order­ing. How­ever, GTA has a ESRB Mature rating to filter out those that might be offended. Should Burger King do the same?

The first thing to remem­ber is this would never work in Amer­ica. While GTA: Vice City is still the best sell­ing PS2 game of all time, it came with its share of back­lash. Some Amer­i­cans get upset at people who wear the wrong scarf. How­ever, the German cul­ture is quite dif­fer­ent than ours and one has to keep in mind the intended audi­ence when eval­u­at­ing a campaign.

Print Ads

The first part of the cam­paign were specially-​themed liners put in the food trays when eating indoors.  I think the art of the tray liners is remark­able. The color and art direc­tion had me pour­ing over the ads look­ing at every detail.  That’s when I started notic­ing some of the subtle things that make the ads funny in a Pulp Fic­tion kind of way. Hats off to the cre­ative direc­tor for not regur­gi­tat­ing the same 50s style family smil­ing around the table eating ham­burg­ers. They do a great job of break­ing through every­day fast food drib­ble with items so visu­ally appeal­ing you can’t help but pay attention.

The first ad in the series com­mu­ni­cates the no col­orants mes­sage in a great way.  Notice the Indi­ana Jones movie ref­er­ence and the guy in the top left low­er­ing a fire­cracker down to his neighbor?

Here the edgi­ness level is raised (low­ered?). The cap­tion reads, “Pickle in? Pickle out? Only you decide how you want your burger.”

Notice the grey bearded “old” onion that’s trying to pass as a fresh vegetable using anti-​aging cream and Botox. His fear stems from the deter­mined police­man behind him.  Brand­ing blog Idea Sand­box breaks down the scene fur­ther. Thanks to Brand Autopsy for the link.

For Hal­loween, the agency pays homage to Amer­i­can horror movies.  How many did you notice?

This one is my favorite. The cap­tion reads, “Just say the word and we’ll elim­i­nate the onions from your burg­ers. Quickly and discreetly.”


The web­site opens with a Vegas city style sign and fades into a true GTA-​style map. Like most interactive ad sites, there are down­loads, games, and a back­story.  Each part of Veg City has it’s own unique twist on the fresh­ness and choice themes. While I don’t see the point in such use­less web­sites, I do appre­ci­ate the art.


YouTube Preview Image


The prob­lem I see with this whole cam­paign is that Burger King is a kid-​friendly restau­rant.  They have play­grounds and kid’s meals with toys.  While the TV and web­site chan­nels are easy to avoid, how do you explain to your six-​year old why the onion is so scared of the pickle with the rubber glove?

If these ads were for Hoot­ers or some other non-​kid restau­rant here in Amer­ica, do you think they would work?

10 Comments / Follow this Post

  1. Thu, July 10 2008

    I’m kind of in shock from this ad. But then again, I kind of like it. :)

    1. Mon, July 14 2008

      Don’t fear the veg­etable Erin!

  2. Thu, July 10 2008

    As a graphic artist, I find the art­work quite amus­ing. I lived in Ger­many for 3-years and got to know the cul­ture very well. The laws in Ger­many are pretty strict when it comes to vio­lence in TV, movies, and games. When I was there, most PC games that showed blood use the color green instead of red. What doesn’t sur­prise me is the “sex” adver­tise­ment. The city I lived nearby had a Burger King on one side, and a 5-story whore com­plex (which looked just like any old office build­ing on the out­side) on the other. This type of scenery was okay to most Ger­mans.

    I don’t think the Amer­i­can public would even want such an adver­tise­ment cam­paign that is based on a game that depicts and wor­ships the brutal acts of murder, unmoral sexual con­tent, and the horrid way women are depicted. Being a father with daugh­ters, if Burger King did an ad. cam­paign like that here in Amer­ica, they would not get my busi­ness - they don’t get my busi­ness anyway.

    Look­ing at the art­work and seeing all the funny and weird illus­tra­tions is one thing, actu­ally using it in a cam­paign to drive in more busi­ness is another.

    Theres a time and place for every­thing.

    1. Mon, July 14 2008

      I agree American’s wouldn’t want or tol­er­ate a cam­paign like this. But it is inter­est­ing to see how other cul­tures are push­ing the enve­lope.

  3. Mon, July 14 2008

    First, it’s about veg­etable char­ac­ters, not human beings. Then you’ll find more explicit sex+violence on any TV nearby. (South­park, Happy Tree Friends… to name but a few)

    By the way: the above men­tioned TVC never ran on German TV. It’s a viral.

    And no, but no: GTA wasn’t an inspi­ra­tion for any idea or graphic of the cam­paign. (although it’s thought for the same target group..young ado­les­cent males.) The ad cam­paign ran long before the hype about GTA IV started.

    And finally: none of the above appeared in the U.S.

    1. Mon, July 14 2008

      Hi Pick­les

      You are right, the ads con­tain veg­eta­bles, not humans. But they are made to look like humans and doing human things. I don’t think it’s jump­ing too far to treat the ads as if they were people. In fact, that’s exactly what the agency wants us to do.

      Regard­ing the tv ad, thanks for the heads up. I guess we should dis­tin­guish between video and tele­vi­sion.

      The GTA con­nec­tion was my inter­pre­ta­tion, and Vice City, not GTA IV. You may not see it, but look­ing at the web map and graphic style imme­di­ately brought that to my mind.

      Agreed. I think I made that point clear. This wouldn’t have gotten past con­cept in the US.

      Thanks for stop­ping by!

  4. Mon, July 14 2008

    Hi Jay,

    Vice City or GTA IV, it’s one and the same series, right? Vice City is just one of the pre­quels of GTA IV.

    I wonder why people don’t get upset by South­park and the same. Because MTV has a right to do it and we’re used to it?

    IMHO BK is not a kid friendly restau­rant like in the U.S. It’s dif­fer­ent here in Ger­many. McDonald’s is the one that’s kid-​friendly. BK here is a lot more for young adults than for kids. That’s why Veg City was ok in Ger­many and people were not shocked at all.

    1. Mon, July 14 2008

      Yes, same series, but I think the art has changed away from the comic-​book style draw­ings to more in-​game imagery. I think Rock­star is proud of the way the game looks in GTA IV.

      And that South­park is on cable and people can choose to ignore it. Plus, it’s old news. 12 years ago people hated it.

      Ah, great insight. That helps under­stand why they would go with a cam­paign like this. So, while they have things like kids meals and pro­mo­tions, it’s not the focus. Cool, thanks.

  5. Mon, July 14 2008

    No need to men­tion that South­park is still famous here in Ger­many - and it’s still on free TV ;-)

    Yes, right, the focus is totally dif­fer­ent here. That’s why there’s a BK next to a whore­house as William L. pointed out above…

    1. Mon, July 14 2008

      Hope­fully you don’t get the two build­ings mixed up!

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