Why it matters to you
Burger King’s ad could signal the beginning of a worrisome trend: Commercials that trigger smart home assistants.
Arguably one of the Google Assistant’s best features is the ability to respond hands-free. On Google’s Home speaker and supported smartphones, shouting, “OK Google” wakes Google’s artificial intelligence-powered service in a jiffy. But as Google Assistant users who watched a new ad spot from Burger King recently found out, that convenience can be a curse.
The 15-second advertisement features an actor standing next to a television and a Google Home. “You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich,” he says. “But I got an idea. OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” The Google Home, prompted by the phrase “OK Google,” recites the Wikipedia entry for Burger King’s whopper.
The campaign hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned. On Wednesday, pranksters amended the Whopper’s list of ingredients to include “100 percent rat,” “toenail clippings” and less publishable foodstuff. (As of publication time, Wikipedia’s editors seem to have wrested control of the page.)
It Google doesn’t appear to have been complicit in Burger King’s ad. As of Wednesday afternoon, Google Home no longer responds to the commercial’s voice command.
Despite the kinks, Burger King’s ad is an inventive — if audacious — marketing ploy and one of the first to specifically target the growing segment consumers who use computer-powered assistants at home.
TV commercials have historically triggered assistants unintentionally and often to comedic effect. During the 2017 Super Bowl, Google’s ad for Google Home set off speakers when actors used the phrase, “OK Google.” Earlier in 2017, a San Diego station’s story about a six-year-old girl who bought a dollhouse with Amazon’s Echo speaker, a competing home assistant, set off Echo devices when the command was repeated on air.
“With the onset of consumers buying intelligent system devices and using them at home, we thought this was a good way to make a connection and go directly to guests and tell a story about our product,” José Cil, president of Burger King, told The New York Times. “We think about our guests’ perception and their perspective on how we interact with them, but on balance we felt this was a really positive way to connect with them.”
Past experiments with assistant-powered promotions have not been well-received. In February, Google Home users complained about hearing an audio promotion for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast movie as part of My Day, a collation of weather forecasts, commute updates, calendar appointments, and news. Google later clarified that the promotion wasn’t intended to be an ad and that it would “[continue] to experiment with new ways to surface content for users and […] do better.”
But Burger King sees Google Home and other smart speakers as an opportunity to make an impact. The ad airs live Wednesday night on MTV, Bravo, and late-night shows starring Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon.