Burger King’s campaign for International Women’s Day backfired Monday as its attempt to draw attention to the male-dominated culinary world was criticized for sexism.
“Women belong in the kitchen,” the burger chain’s United Kingdom social media channel tweeted.
Women belong in the kitchen.
— Burger King (@BurgerKingUK) March 8, 2021
The restaurant followed up that tweet, which has since been retweeted and quote tweeted more than 250,000 times, with a subsequent message, “if they want to, of course.”
“Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career,” it wrote. The brand then announced it would be launching a scholarship that will ”help female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams!”
The first tweet was no accident. The brand also took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, with the same message. “Women belong in the kitchen” was in giant letters; the further context was in small print below.
Outrage was swift, even from competitors. The gaming account of Kentucky Fried Chicken tweeted at Burger King, telling it to delete its tweet.
But the people running the social media for the “Home of the Whopper” doubled down.
“Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry, we thought you’d be on board with this as well?” the brand asked, seeming to feign confusion.
Online, some wondered why the company didn’t go with the more obvious route: change its name to “Burger Queen” for a day.
Burger King had the perfect setup to go with Burger Queen for the day but chose to publicly execute their social media people instead.
— Anthony (@BigJigglyPanda) March 8, 2021
“If you want to use sexism as clickbait, then you obviously are not celebrating International Women’s Day,” said Kerry O’Grady, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, who leads its public relations and corporate communications program.
O’Grady said it’s clear the brand made the “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet to get attention. But using a decades-old sexist trope to be noticed isn’t an effective strategy, she warned.
“Burger King is a now a brand that’s associated with sexism,” she said, calling the campaign “such a fail.”
The brand appeared to justify the decision to itself by believing people would read through the thread, O’Grady said. But she said it was “just foolish” to think people would take the time to read the entire message.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Burger King admitted the tweet was “designed to draw attention.”
“It was our mistake to not include the full explanation in our initial tweet and have adjusted our activity moving forward because we’re sure that when people read the entirety of our commitment, they will share our belief in this important opportunity,” a spokesperson said, emphasizing it is “committed to helping women break through a male-dominated culinary culture.”
Yet, many feel the fast-food giant had the opportunity to bring attention to a worthy cause and bungled it.
In the United Kingdom, women only hold 17 percent of chef positions, according to the Office of National Statistics. In the United States, women make up less than a quarter of the ranks of chefs.
“I think the campaign is completely lost,” O’Grady said. “It didn’t have to be this way.”
Ben Kesslen is a reporter for NBC News.