When Marketing Comms go wrong… Gourmet Burger Kitchen

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Gourmet Burger Kitchen GBK hits the headlines – for all the wrong reasons.

When you choose your marketing messages, you have to be clear what the potential outcomes will be.  We would be very surprised if this was their intended outcome on their latest campaign…


You MUST NOT exploit beliefs to push your brand. Never, Never, Never.

We’re all sensitive souls inside, no matter how hardened the exterior.  It’s never right to say “…they won’t mind…” when planning the assassination of someone’s personal beliefs.

  • YES – you may make a big noise.
  • YES – you may push your brand onto everyone’s radar, even if they they like / hate / don’t care about the issues you’ve exploited.
  • YES – you may see an increase in sales as your debate widens.
  • YES – you may establish strong expression of passion for your brand (both negative and positive), where previously there was non..


  • You will alienate the people you offend.
  • You will degrade or totally destroy the value of your brand with some people.
  • You risk very serious consequences.  Even if your messaging is not illegal, a substantial boycott can destroy even the most solid and predictable of cash flows.
  • You will be seen as a brand who don’t mind firing cheap nasty tactics to get what they want.

People make mistakes – even in marketing… so say sorry, and mean it!

OK, hands up, everyone is capable of making mistakes, but there must have been a number of people that thought this campaign was a good idea.  Indeed, GBK’s response suggests they had no idea how many (loud) people they were going to upset:

We’ve been reading the reaction to our latest advertising campaign and needless to say, we’re quite taken aback. The last thing we ever intended to do was offend or alienate vegetarians. The same vegetarians that we’ve looked after and fed since our very first restaurant. Our intentions were light-hearted and not meant to cause any offence, but clearly we have, and for that we apologise.

While we’ve served beef at the core of our menu since 2001, we’ve always catered well to the veggies out there, and that’s never going to change.

So having read all your comments and messages, we’ve made the decision to take down some of the adverts. We’ll still serve beef. We’ll still serve veggie burgers. But hopefully we’ll not tread on anyone’s toes while doing it. Best, GBK.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Facebook Page.


How can you mitigate risk – on a risky campaign idea?

We don’t think GBK’s intention was to antagonise or otherwise upset people.  But clearly the negative response has been substantial – and fast!  In our digital world, a proactive opinion will move quickly.  And, if you truly didn’t intend that reaction, you can’t delay your response.  And GBK’s response above is reasonable, albeit the horse has now already bolted.

We’ve heard many ideas that start of as a laugh between a few colleagues in a pub that spiral into a more detailed concept (…we’re not saying that this is how it happened).  But you must always be diligent before you commission an idea.

When does pushing boundaries become trampling the beliefs and feelings?  Here’s our very simple six step guide that we use to determine whether an idea is a good one or not:


  1. SLEEP ON AN IDEA (if you can!).  What seems like a great idea in a meeting can appear quite bad on reflection.
  2. LISTEN to both your advocates and your critics.  They may be wrong, but you should always consider a span of views.
  3. BRAINSTORM OUTCOMES – be true and realistic.  Explore every possible outcome and align that outcome to a stereotype or group.
  4. RATE YOUR RISK AND ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES – For instance, think; are vegetarians and supporting organisations known for taking a “joke” aimed at their beliefs, or are they likely to be noisily unhappy?  What could happen to the brand and business in the Short / Long term?
  5. THINK ABOUT BRAND – With all of the above in mind, is the communication likely to be a positive alignment with your brand? Or will you flush years of good branding work down the toilet?  Are you a posh, well respected brand that never wants to offend, or is your brand commonly aligned with South Park style insensitivity?
  6. PLAN REACTIONS – If you want to be edgy, pre-plan your responses.  If your messaging goes down well, how will you grow it?  Where are your boundaries?  If it risks tanking your brand, how can you restore normality?

Make Good…

If you’ve hit the lowest point, you’ve got to act fast or put your recovery at risk.  Our suggestions below are based on common sense and decency, which is what you will need to get people back on side…

  • Apologise and accept responsibility.
  • Be honest. Admit that what you intended as a “light-hearted joke” seemed like a good idea, but that it was a serious mistake and you acknowledge that.
  • Be clear that you didn’t intend to cause offence (unless you did, then shame on you!).
  • Reassure people that you’ll avoid similar mistakes in the future.  Detail HOW you will do this.  In this case, we’d suggest, in addition to our 6 rules above, that a stakeholder panel could express views before the public are exposed to an idea.
  • Make peace – if you’ve offended people, open the door and invite them in.  Listen to their concerns.
  • Always act on your promises – the internet never forgets!


We’re following this on FB.  Feel free to join the debate: