Minnesotan Seng Vang is deeply offended by Burger King’s portrayal of Hmong people in its “Whopper Virgin” campaign. The offensive segment of the campaign featured Hmong people in Northern Thailand “simply as “tribesmen” who “don’t even have a word for burger,” Seng Vang wrote in a protest letter to Burger King.
The text of the ad reads:
“What happens if you take remote Chiang Mai villagers who have never seen a burger? Who don’t even have a word for burger? And ask them to compare a Whopper versus Big Mac in the world’s purest taste test. The Whopper is America’s favorite. But what will these people choose? The Whopper Virgins will decide.”
“Really?” wrote Seng Vang. “Do you really expect the 350,000 Hmong Americans in the U.S., some right in Miami where your headquarters is located, as well as in Boulder, Los Angeles, and London to believe that? You really expect the hundreds if not thousands of Hmong Americans who are Burger King employees across the U.S. and around the world to believe that? Of course, you really expect the 150,000 Hmong in Thailand to be so “pure” (primitive is what you want the consumer to believe) that they don’t know what a burger is?
“… I’ve got news for you. It has now been confirmed that those individuals in your commercial spot are in fact quite familiar with Burger King as well as McDonalds, two fast food chains that are quite popular right in the heart of Chiangmai, Thailand! In fact, a couple of Hmong Thai students are employees at both places as I write!”
Instead of retracting the ad or apologizing, Burger King replied to Seng Vang, defending the ad. “[We] always strive to be sensitive to cultural concerns,” wrote BK Vice President Susan Robison. “It is our practice to associate our brand with campaigns that are within the bounds of good taste, executed appropriately, and not offensive to any substantial population group.” The letter went on to describe the Virgin Whopper campaign taste tests administered to Hmong participants from the village Baan Mon Kghor, Maramures participants from the Romanian village of Budesti, and Inuit participants from the Greenland village of Isortoq. BK, the letter said, sent representatives to visit the villages of participants and learn about their cultures and then donated educational
tools and supplies to Baan Mon Kghor, children’s toys to Isortoq, and aid for a church restoration project in Budesti.
Seng Vang isn’t buying it.
The Hmong of the world, especially those in Thailand and in the U.S. are NOT satisfied by your explanations.
Let’s look at the your ad, again, word for word, line for line.
BK claims in it’s ad: “What happens if you take remote Chiang Mai villagers who have never seen a burger?”
This is obviously a false, as the specific people in the ads (who are our relatives) HAVE seen burgers before, lots of it. Almost every Hmong Thai villages in Thailand have a TV. Thailand has how many BK franchises? How many commercials in Thai have these franchises run in the past several decades? Even the most remote Hmong villages in Thailand, like the ones in your ad, drive Toyota Tundras, talk to their relatives in St. Paul on their cell phones, and watch CNN and BBC on their satellite TVs. Never seen a burger? Pure fiction. Hmong villagers in Thailand aren’t as backward or primitive as you want Americans or the world to think. This type of stereotype needs to stop! BK eating Hmong Americans demands it.
BK ad claims: “[Hmong] Who don’t even have a word for burger?
In Thai, burgers are called, “Ber-Gerh”. Hmong Thais may not pronounce “burger” you and I would, but they know what a burger is. It’s not like lutefisk or something. Please.
BK ad claims: “And ask them to compare a Whopper versus Big Mac in the world’s purest taste test.”
They have had burgers before. They have had Whoppers before. They have had Big Macs before.
BK ad claims: “The Whopper is America’s favorite.”
I’m sure millions of Thai people, including the Hmong of Thailand likes the Whopper too. They also like the Big Mac just as well. If they can afford it.
BK ad claims: “But what will these people choose?”
“These people?” Those primitives in remote places of the world? As if they exist in a time warp and isolated from the rest of the world. Last I checked, there was a Hmong Super Delegate for Barack Obama. Get your heads out of the sand. We all live in a very tight knit global society.
Finally, your BK ad claims: “The Whopper Virgins will decide.”
Obviously, BK and their ad agency, CONTRARY to their claim that they “carefully constructed the campaign to respect the cultures of the people who participated in the test,” yet have by calling remote Hmong villagers in Thailand “virgins”, BK has committed a grave and unspeakable cultural gaffe, especially with images of Hmong men chumping on “burgers.” Need a little Hmong cultural and diversity orientation, BK?
Let the apologies come forth, and hopefully soon. Some of these Hmong people know how to run viral campaigns on Youtube too, you know.