15th March 2021

White Men Can't Jump 

White Men Can't Jump

Tell that to Greg Rutherford! For those not into athletics, Greg is white, and he does jump, he actually jumps really bloody far. He is also from Milton Keynes, nice little tie in there for you. (Bold headline then loosely relates back to our agency routes, should be enough to get this blog through QC).

“Women belong in the kitchen”

Maybe you read that headline and you’ve made it to paragraph two, sentence one thinking, ah, he’s got me. Clickbait. There is you thinking it was something you could rally behind and post on Twitter “Racial stereotyping creative agency in Milton Keynes shoots selves in one’s foot”… Well no, none of that here. #inclusivity #weareone #beadecenthuman. (Are entire sentences of hashtags a thing?). 

Last week Burger King went bolder than me with the headline. Like, real bold. 



What? Seeing it for the first time, I was sitting there thinking there have been women involved in that sign-off process? There must have been… What’s the real message here? Sure enough, an ulterior motive. The message was designed to gain traction for BK to talk about how they are working tirelessly to up the current balance of male to female chefs in their kitchens.

Their intentions were solid, arguably even morally sound but the execution was a complete disaster. The only thing worse than putting out a damaging tweet, is taking down said tweet. We’re not talking about Royal Burger on Chesham highstreet here… This is a global brand, with universal awareness, and based on my own research, roughly two in five people have tried Burger King, TWO IN FIVE*. When brands of that size make mistakes, it’s national news, which is why being disruptive is so difficult and should be a calculated risk. 

The process is clever. They are manipulating the fact that as humans we are innately more interested in bad news. It spreads faster than good news and that is being taken advantage of, there is a deeply physiological rationale behind what they are trying to achieve and that’s actually pretty terrifying.

The art of leveraging emotion is as old as advertising itself, the winner of the annual Christmas-advert-of-the-year award tends to be the one that gets you right in the feels the most (the answer is the bear and hare by the way, everytime). Charities tend to advertise under a creative cloak of emotional blackmail… Ask Lenny Henry. But, will this PR stunt lead to other brands taking deeper psychological strategies to their marketing more than they currently do? 

It’s called neuromarketing. The idea is you are taking advantage of our cognitive biases. Predicting what audiences will do when. It applies theoretical frameworks to advertising and should arguably become less subjective, if done correctly, that is. 



Another example of this is Starbucks and their decision to write relatively simple names horribly horribly wrong on the cups when orders are taken. Like Mark with a c – Cark. I’ve walked out of Starbucks several times with ‘Tony’ written on my cup, and the deep rage that I end up leaving with typically ends up on social media berating the barista (decent album name that, for anyone interested). I’m advertising them, for free. They’ve made me do it, by knowing they are making me angry, and that I will go back anyway. Using the fact we have this need to sh

are our thoughts with strangers. They know what they are doing, at this stage, I even know what they are doing. Do I care? No. Because a white chocolate mocha with a single shot of coffee and cream is tastier than my tiny element of pride I maintain at the ripe age of 31.

These are only two examples of practicing this type of marketing, subjectively, it’s a good and a bad example of how it should be practiced. What is evident, is that they aren’t flippant bits of marketing. They are researched and rationalised decisions, the process is good, the output questionable, certainly on BK’s example. 

Either way, we’re talking about it. Even debating it… Thinking about how maybe we would have approached it… Was it successful? How damaging is it? We preach and practice rationalised creativity at Cygnus. We have a team of brilliant creatives who could whip up an insight-less logo or a finger-in-the-air campaign with no research carried out that might well be the prettiest you’ve seen. But it would last 12 months, we’d end up looking bad, and you’d end up really angry. We don’t want to look bad, and I’m sure you don’t want to be angry. 

Consumer and audience behavior isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’, it’s a necessity to create legacy-piece brand and campaign work. How that information and by default, our cognitive bias is used will be different in 6 months, and different again in 12. But it will always remain the difference between memorable advertising and all the other bumf.

If the marketing folks at Burger King read this, next time just change your socials to Burger Queen and we’d still get what you’re trying to say… You’d just annoy a lot fewer people than you annoyed this time.

*Based on a chat group at work, there were 10 people in it, four had tried it. This is beginning to look like the qualifying at the end of the Head and Shoulders adverts… “72% of 405 women asked found that it doesn’t actually clean your shoulders”.

Author: Toby Bryan