¡That’s a Spicy Meatball!

Humor in advertising can be extremely effective if it hits the right note at the right time. Of course, the inverse to this statement is also true: humor can be risky if it misses the mark. It’s hard to get it right.

It’s also hard hard to stand out in today’s cluttered media environment, so perhaps the riskier route might be exactly what is required.

According to an Adweek article by David Griner, that’s precisely what the We Believers agency had in mind with their new “Only for Mexicans” campaign for Burger King’s Mango Habanero Burger. 

The ad starts out by depicting stereotypical (read: obnoxious) American tourists enjoying fun and sun in Mexico. But it quickly moves to poking friendly fun at these tourists by showing them being completely decimated by Burger King’s Mango Habanero Burger. 

Burger King Commercial

The Americans (real people, not actors) are filmed suffering big time and freaking out from what they consider a painfully spicy, inedible burger. In contrast, the locals who eat the burger are nonplussed by the spice level. Though the ad is funny in a schadenfreude sort of way, will Americans see it, as Burger King hopes, as “self-deprecating and funny”?

“I think most people will get that the execution is just a tongue-in-cheek way of landing a product truth,” Burger King global CMO Fernando Machado told Adweek.”

Well, maybe. But the question we need to ask in our current political climate is: Will politics factor into the reaction? Even Machado expresses some concern that the campaign might elicit some strong reactions from people on the American side of the border.

Burger King claims to be not too concerned about possible backlash seeing as the commercial is running only in Mexico.

But is a campaign which is only running in Mexico, really only running in Mexico? In the age of social media, does geographically specific advertising even exist? It used to be an American celebrity would only agree to become spokesperson for a product if it was from a foreign country such as Japan, so that their American fans would never see it and their American brand would remain “unsullied.”  Nowadays, if something goes viral it doesn’t matter where it originated. And, of course, the “only running in Mexico” ad is now easily found on YouTube.

Only time will tell if that is a good thing.

Burger King certainly isn’t the first product to use humor and spice in an ad campaign. One of my favorites is the classic 1969 Alka-Seltzer “That’s a spicy meatball!” television spot:

This ad worked because it made fun of the problem, not the product. The product comes in as hero and solves the problem without taking itself too seriously. 

Burger King might want to keep the spicy meatball commercial in mind. If the “Only for Mexicans” Mango Habanero Burger campaign backfires, perhaps a generous dose of Alka-Seltzer might come in handy.