Three ads for Burger King, seen in January 2020, promoted the “Rebel Whopper”:
a. A tweet on the Burger King (@BurgerKingUK) Twitter feed stated, “You asked and we listened. Introducing the Rebel Whopper, our first plant-based burger! [Burger emoji] Pick up yours exclusively with the app on the 6th and 7th and then available as usual from the 8th. T&Cs apply”. An image of the product was seen below the tweet with a round sticker on the product which stated, “100% WHOPPER. NO BEEF”.
b. A Facebook post on the Burger King UK account stated “You asked and we listened. Introducing the Rebel Whopper, our first plant-based burger! [Burger emoji] Pick up yours exclusively with the app on the 6th and 7th and then available as usual from the 8th. T&Cs apply”. An image of the product was seen alongside the text with a round sticker on the product which stated, “100% WHOPPER. NO BEEF”. A round logo was seen at the bottom left of the image which stated “POWERED BY THE VEGETARIAN BUTCHER”. Small text at the bottom of the image stated “*Product is cooked alongside meat products”.
c. A Facebook post on the Burger King UK account stated “TASTE OF BEING WOKE” next to an image of the Rebel burger. Smaller text beneath that wording stated, “100% WHOPPER. NO BEEF” with very small text beneath stating “”T&C’s APPLY”. The Burger King logo and The Vegetarian Butcher logo were shown at the top of the post.
Ten complainants, who understood that the Rebel Whopper was not suitable for vegans, or vegetarians and those with egg allergies because it was cooked alongside meat products and used egg-based mayonnaise, challenged whether the claims “100% Whopper No Beef” and “plant-based burger” in ads (a) and (b) and (c) were misleading.
BKUK Group Ltd t/a Burger King stated that the ads explained that the small print at the bottom of the ads stated that the Rebel Whopper may not be suitable for vegans or vegetarians as it was cooked alongside other meat products. Burger King added that the information was clearly communicated to journalists and clearly stated on all social media posts and subsequent customer dialogue. Burger King provided example screenshots of consumer interactions. They also explained that they had excluded the Vegetarian Butcher logo from TV as it was considered potentially misleading. Burger King explained that the product itself consisted of a 100% plant-based patty supplied by the Vegetarian Butcher and had no beef. They added that a customer who did not want mayonnaise could have excluded that from their order.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims “100% WHOPPER. NO BEEF” and in particular the claim “plant-based burger” to mean that the burger did not contain any beef or animal products. We considered that the presence of the “Vegetarian Butcher” logo, the green colour palette and the timing of the ad and product release to coincide with ‘Veganuary’ contributed further to the impression that the product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians. However, we understood that although the patty itself was plant-based, it was cooked on the same grill as meat products.
We also understood that the complete burger contained egg-based mayonnaise. For those reasons the burger as-sold was not suitable for vegans or vegetarians. While we noted ad (b) featured the qualification that it was “cooked alongside meat products” we considered it was not sufficiently prominent to override the overall impression that the burger was suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Additionally that qualification did not refer to the presence of egg mayonnaise and, in any case, it was missing from ad (c) entirely, and also missing from ad (a) as it appeared in-feed. We noted that some complainants had raised concerns about egg allergies. However we considered that those with egg allergies would not infer from the limited claims in the ads that the burger would be necessarily safe for them to eat. Because the overall impression of the ads was that the burger was suitable for vegans and vegetarians when in fact it was not, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told BKUK Group Ltd t/a Burger King to ensure that they did not misleadingly imply that a product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians if it was not.