Whoppers, man boobs, and reaching the unreachable

Hacking into pop culture to spark conversation Finding new and interesting ways to get people’s attention is the goal of almost any ad campaign.

Hacking into pop culture to spark conversation

Finding new and interesting ways to get people’s attention is the goal of almost any ad campaign. It’s even better if you’re able to push past attention and into engagement. But with more and more ways to reach your audience and their attention becoming more and more fragmented, this can be a big challenge. One move is to hack into culture and catch them off-guard, and thus, spark conversation.

Google Home of the Whopper

This approach has paid off big-time for Burger King over the past few years. Burger King’s creative team, in fact, have studied techniques used by computer hackers and often apply some of the learned insights to their marketing strategy. Their process involves monitoring trending conversations in pop culture and then finding relevant ways to insert the brand into those conversations — even if it involves breaking some rules.

A primary example is the ”Google Home of the Whopper” campaign, developed in tandem with the brand’s creative agency, David Miami. The Whopper, BK’s signature sandwich, is loaded with fresh ingredients – so many that it can’t possibly fit inside the :15 spots that made up the majority of the media buy.

So the team developed a TV spot that ended with the spokesman asking “Ok Google, what is the Whopper Burger?” This question activated any nearby Google Home device to, in effect, finish the spot by reading The Whopper’s Wikipedia entry, which included an expanded description of the sandwich.

In essence, the team used a technology hack to turn a :15 spot into a :30. It was the first ever ad that used a voice-activated assistant to extend a TV spot and it initiated a media frenzy. Some people loved the approach. Others deemed it invasive. But what couldn’t be debated, was that it got people talking.

The campaign resulted in 9.3 billion global impressions and an estimated $135 million in earned media. In addition, it was a trending topic on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as it sparked a debate around the limits of advertising and the future of invasive technology.

Henry’s Breast Exam

David Miami was responsible for sparking another conversation as part of their work for MACMA, a breast cancer awareness organization. They wanted to share a video to increase awareness of breast cancer and show women how to perform a self exam. Problem was, they couldn’t show female breasts on social media. In order to avoid censorship, they demonstrated a typical breast exam on a rotund male participant, Henry, with a woman standing behind him conducting the exam.

The result was a bit unorthodox and visually odd, but was certainly enough to garner attention and get people talking. The video received 48 million views in the first week, resulted in 193 million impressions on social media, and earned an estimated $17 million in media. The story was covered on every continent and sparked a debate around censorship policies on social platforms, in addition to accomplishing its primary goal of promoting awareness of early cancer detection.

Sidestepping Ad Blockers

Another agency, MullenLowe Mediahub, has a reputation for unique approaches and their work for Netflix is a great example. Black Mirror, the show that warns us of our dependence on technology, had a loyal following. But leading up to season 3, they wanted more. And their type of viewer hated advertising and almost universally used ad blockers.

The creative team found a way to bypass ad blocker software by hardcoding messages directly into some of the sites frequently visited by their target audience, including Mashable, Slate and The Next Web. They promoted the show by showing a message that said, “You cannot see the ad. But the ad can see you. What’s on the other side of your black mirror?”


By using this digital media hack, they were able to essentially reach the unreachable and grab the attention of their target audience. And these people couldn’t help but share it with others like them, resulting in 30x more conversation on social media compared to the season prior. In addition, the campaign sparked 1 million social posts and search volume for the show increased 5x.

These case studies all solve a problem in a unique and memorable way and show how campaigns broke out of the realm of advertising and into pop culture. Whether it’s using existing platforms in new ways or an unexpected use of technology, content creators may have something to learn from the world of hacking. And if the approach is interesting enough to initiate a conversation, any campaign has the potential to feel much larger than the paid media budget.