Burger King clears the air: Chain says it has not pulled its flatulent cow campaign

CMO Fernando Machado said a report that the initiative has been discontinued is incorrect.

Fernando Machado, global CMO of Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International has said that a report that the chain has altered its Cows Menu ad starring "yodeling kid" Mason Ramsey is just hot air.

In a story that ran on Wednesday on AgWeb, the agriculture news publication interviewed Frank Mitloehner, a University of California-Davis air quality extension specialist, who said that much of the information in the Burger King’s ad is inaccurate.

The spot, which focuses on cow flatulence, is part of a campaign to educate consumers about the environmental impact of beef. Burger King has developed an open-source recipe for food for cows that reduces methane emissions.

"I educated them on the facts, and they made several changes," Mitloehner told AgWeb. "They took content out that was demeaning to farmers….and they pulled the content from all TV stations. So, to me, that is very positive and it is indicative that they ‘get it’ – that the mistake was made and that it needs to be corrected."

However, Machado told PRWeek the fast food giant "hasn’t pulled anything." He also said the story has "lots of wrong info."

"The two-minute music film was used in social and TV," he said. "We continue to use it in social. You can check it on our YouTube channel. We also had a shorter version which was more suitable for TV because it gets very expensive to run the two-minute film on TV all the time."

The AgWeb story said that Burger King officials contacted Mitloehner after seeing his response to the company’s commercial, saying they were surprised by his reception to their campaign. It added that the company asked Mitloehner to work with them, moving forward to "infuse science-based research on the one hand and get communication out -- and check it before it reaches the masses," Mitloehner said.

But Machado told PRWeek that Burger King had already been working with University of California-Davis from the beginning of the project.

"We are expanding on the partnership now, which was always the plan," Machado said.

Mitloehner also told AgWeb that he doubts lemongrass, at the level the company will feed it to cows, will have the desired effect. He added that a study by UC Davis was inconclusive, and one conducted by the Autonomous University of Mexico has not been published.

"The work we did in Mexico was indeed peer reviewed and is in the process of being published," said Machado. "The details of that work are all present on our website."

Machado added that Cows Menu is part of a long-term project for Burger King, and the company plans to do more research and replicate the tests in Europe and Latin America.

"What we have now is just the beginning," said Machado. "We always knew that, and the plan was always to continue to find partnerships and develop the project. That’s all explained on our website."

Mitloehner told PRWeek that after the Cows Menu video was released, he had four follow-up calls with Burger King, and said that AgWeb got it wrong with his comments.

"The video was then modified to remove a sequence with a farmer and his cow in an elevator and then he remarked on flatulence," Mitloehner said. "It was a sequence that was characterized as demeaning by many farmers because they felt portrayed like farmer hicks."

Mitloehner added that Burger King's focus on flatulence in the video was wrong to do with a serious topic like livestock emissions.

"When people talk about the video, they talk about it as 'the fart video,'" Mitloehner told PRWeek. "I don’t think Burger King can want that or anyone can want that, because then we all snicker and walk on."

He added that Burger King’s work in the area is a positive thing.

The Cows Menu video was released on July 14 and directed by Academy Award winner Michel Gondry. The campaign was immediately met with mixed reviews. Farm leaders said the ad is "condescending and hypocritical."

In a letter to the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef on July 21, Machado wrote that after receiving feedback from the producer community on its portrayal of certain elements and the fact that Burger King "made light of a serious topic by highlighting farts as a key message," the brand made adjustments to the initial video uploaded to YouTube.

"We apologize to anyone who felt offended by the content," Machado wrote in the letter. "Our intention was to celebrate farmers and portray them as the ones working to continuously improve the sustainability aspect of the work."

A representative for AgWeb could not be reached for comment.

This article first appeared on prweek.com.

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