WHOPPER® Sacrifice by Suhaily Erkkila and Alyssa Korinke

Original Burger King Logo
Figure1: Original Burger King character representation 1955-68   

Burger King: A History

Burger King was established in 1954 in Jacksonville Florida by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns as Insta-Burger King. Their “insta-broiler” oven, used to cook the burgers, was so successful that it was incorporated into the company name. Although Burger King successfully grew through franchising, the company ran into financial trouble and was bought by franchisees James McLamore and David Edgerton in 1954. McLamore and Edgerton renamed the restaurant chain Burger King. Since the 50s, BK has changed hands multiple times and is now under the umbrella of Restaurants Brands International. Today Burger King has more than 13,000 locations in 79 countries worldwide and their best selling burger is the WHOPPER®.

The Whopper Sacrifice

After years as the second largest burger chain in the country, behind McDonald’s, Burger King was facing shrinking market share in 2008. Rival Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) chain Wendy’s was nearing their national sales numbers. Where McDonald’s had marketed towards families for several decades, Burger King had been going after a different demographic. Their marketing focus was on “heavy users” already frequenting the restaurant. This demographic was primarily identified as males ages 18-35 years old. To market toward this segment, ad campaigns had a heavy focus on humor that leaned toward the cartoony or the irreverent. More famous examples of this advertising strategy were the King and the “Subservient Chicken” campaigns.

The Burger King
Figure 2: Burger King’s King campaign
Subservient Chicken Mug Shot
Figure 3: Subservient Chicken campaign image

These strategies were not only often unappealing to the more diverse market the restaurant chain actually serves, but also they were sometimes seen as offensive. This strategy had gained the company some recognition in advertising circles, but had also led to a shrinking market share. In January of 2009 Burger King turned to Crispin Porter + Bogusky to design a social media campaign that would create engagement, boost sales, and shore up their flagging market share. CP+B decided to follow up on their controversial “Whopper Virgins” campaign with an interactive social media initiative. Choosing Facebook as their sole marketing channel, the agency built out an application that took the opposite tack from most existing branded apps. Rather than pushing users to increase network interactions through the app, Whopper Sacrifice offered an incentive for users to cull their friend lists.

Facebook is a social network forged on relationships, but much of the activity is based on weak and latent ties like former school friends, people met in passing, or acquaintances. Branded applications typically encouraged further building of the user’s network, giving marketers opportunities to gain even more data as this network grew. These applications often trade entertainment for data mining. With their Whopper incentive Burger King instead took advantage of the emotions tied to social networking sites (SNSs). A “core element of Whopper Sacrifice’s popularity was the fact that it tapped into a real “tension” in digital culture–how social networking has changed our ideas of what friendship means.”(McCarthy, 7), according to Matt Walsh, head of Interaction Design at CP+B.

Whopper Sacrifice Promo Image
Figure 4: Whopper Sacrifice campaign promo image

“ What would you do for a free WHOPPER®? Would you insult an elected official? Would you do a naked handstand? Would you go so far as to turn your back on friendship? Install WHOPPER® Sacrifice on your Facebook profile and we’ll reward you with a free flame-broiled WHOPPER® Sandwich when you sacrifice 10 of your friends.”

Whopper Sacrifice was a small campaign, targeted to a specific platform rather than through demographics or other more typical methods of segmentation. The goal of was to improve national sales numbers and increase market share, but the team decided that a limit of only 25,000 coupons would be available and they wouldn’t advertise. Without ever using traditional media or promotional strategies, CP+B managed to grow the campaign to a total of 85,000 users in just over a week accumulating a total of 233,906 friendships sacrificed.

Interacting with the campaign worked in three steps. A new user went to whoppersacrifice.com and was sent to Facebook to activate the app, or they found the app on Facebook itself through word of mouth advertising. Participants then had to enable the app on their profile and delete ten Facebook friends. As soon as a friend was deleted, the side of the widget would show a burning picture of your now ex-friend and say “You liked (friend’s name). You love the Whopper.” The friends that were eliminated would get a notification from Burger King stating that their friendship was worth less than 1/10th of a Whopper and the ‘sacrifice’ was listed in the original user’s Facebook activity feed. The app would keep a tally of how many friends you had sacrificed, as well as how many had been sacrificed in total, and once all 10 friends had been sacrificed participants would be mailed a coupon for their free Whopper.

Shortly after the campaign began, Facebook reached out to Burger King with some concerns about their application. The company felt that broadcasting sacrifice notifications infringed on their privacy policies because the widget was sending the notifications to users who had not installed the app. There were also concerns that, as Facebook does not issue notifications when users are ‘unfriended’, this activity was negatively impacting the brand’s image and reputation.

Sacrifice Facebook Notifications
Figure 5: Sacrifice notifications on user’s Facebook feed

As a solution Facebook asked Burger King to remove notification aspect that alerted Facebook users when they had been sacrificed. Burger King felt that removing or changing this function on the application would alter the campaign and fundamentally change the campaign. Rather than make the updates to the app, nine days into the project they made the decision to terminate the campaign. Burger King had this to say:

“While Facebook was a great sport, they did ask for changes that would have resulted in a different approach to our application, counter to what we developed, Ultimately, based on philosophical differences, we decided to conclude the campaign and chose to ‘sacrifice’ the application.” (Wortham, 8)

Facebook responded with their own statement, saying:

“We encourage creativity from developers and companies using Facebook Platform, but we also must ensure that applications meet users’ expectations. After constructive conversations with Burger King and the developer of the application, they have decided to conclude their campaign rather than continue with the restrictions we placed on their application,” (O’Brien, 12)

After Burger King removed the Whopper Sacrifice app they developed the Angry-Gram. This was an animation that those people who were ‘unfriended’ during the Whopper Sacrifice campaign were encouraged to send to the one who had sacrificed them. First they would fill out the Mad Lib style Angry-Gram, then the website would generate a talking Whopper personalized to yell your insults at that specific friend.

Angry-Gram Entry
Figure 6: Angry-Gram information entry
Animated Whopper
Figure 7: Angry shouting Whopper

Indicators of Success

Overall Whopper Sacrifice can be viewed as a success. It has been the topic of research for scores of social media professionals, and many case studies have been written about the iconic campaign. Success could also be measured through the number of awards CP+B won for their work on this project. Whopper Sacrifice won the Gold at the One Show in branded applications and web. The campaign walked away from the Art Directors Club with both the ADC Hybrid Cube and the Gold in web applications. At the Clio Awards it pulled off a hat trick, bagging two Grand Clios in fresh approach and emerging media, and a Gold in the online application category.

Going viral is an external measure of success as well. Within two days of launching the site and Facebook app, the campaign hit critical mass and was picked up by media outlets. From advertising and media bloggers to traditional news outlets to social media networks, people everywhere were talking about Whopper Sacrifice. The concept was innovative, the messaging was polarizing, and the execution was beautiful.

Internally, Burger King had set a limit of 25,000 free Whopper coupons.  By the time the campaign was shut down just nine days in, they had already given out 23,000 coupons. The company was less than 24 hours away from concluding Whopper Sacrifice even if the campaign had been allowed to run its course. BK was able to get 23,000 customers ripe for cross selling opportunities into stores to redeem the coupons. Whopper Sacrifice not only got people talking and revived the brand, but also led to increased sales opportunities at a very limited customer acquisition cost. Burger King gained heavy media coverage for weeks due to the controversial nature of the app.

Looking at the reactions to the campaign from 2009, there were definitely two sides to the argument for or against success. Its controversy stemmed from two aspects, the sense of privacy Facebook users were expecting on the site and what some called mean spiritedness. Commenters on several of advertising and media blogs claimed concerns over deleting friends in the first place, let alone informing the sacrificial friends that they were of less value than 1/10th of a Whopper.

Blog Comments
Figure 8: Comments from the NYT blog post about the campaign

The campaign may have been pulled after only nine days, but the decision to shut down the app and reposition the campaign rather than bow to Facebook’s pressure to redesign ended up being an integral part of this campaign’s lasting impact. Rather than putting an end to the conversation, ending the campaign only spurred the talk on. More and more articles were written and Facebook was flooded with conversations between friends who had not had a chance to sacrifice each other. Instead of spending money on traditional advertising media, Burger King benefitted from the overwhelming amount of publicity and news coverage. Everyone was talking about their brand.

This campaign is an interesting case to study in today’s social environment. At the time of execution it was considered innovative and groundbreaking primarily by creatives and advertising bloggers. Many news stories focused on the etiquette of Facebook friendship angle. One thing no one really seemed to look into until case studies came out after the fact was the clever way CP+B played on that tension created by social media. How do we really view friendships online? What value do we place on them? Are there various levels of importance? As we look at this campaign through today’s lens we tend to view Whopper Sacrifice as humorous, and there are less concerns about privacy or etiquette. The way social media is viewed has changed. The piece that stands out the most is how CP+B anticipated societies SNS fatigue, and incorporated a helpful solution into the Burger King branded app. In today’s social landscape the number one rule is to provide something of value to your audience rather than simply pushing advertising. By taking a more theoretical and thoughtful approach to advertising, CP+B and the Burger King team were building those values into branded content years ahead of their time. Burger King has now lost their spot as the number two burger chain in the nation, but we’ve learned to associate the brand with edgy advertising, interactive media campaigns, and an innovative take on branded applications.


  1. Admin. “Whopper Sacrifice Forced to Disable Behavior by Facebook (Updated).” Web log post. Social Times. Ad Week, 14 Jan. 2009. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/whopper-sacrifice-shut-down-by-facebook/216454?red=if>.
  2. Hepburn, Aden. “Whopper Sacrifice Shut Down! Results Are In!” Digital Buzz Blog. Digital Buzz, 19 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/whopper-sacrifice-campaign-results-and-statisitcs/>.
  3. Matyszczyk, Chris. “Facebook Drops a Whopper.” CNET Magazine. CNET, 20 Jan. 09. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://www.cnet.com/news/facebook-drops-a-whopper/>.
  4. EyeSee, Virtual. “Social Media Marketing – Whopper Sacrifice.” SlideShare. LinkedIn, 10 May 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://www.slideshare.net/VirtualEyeSee/social-media-marketing-whopper-sacrifice>.
  5. Burger King Angry-Gram. Perf. WHOPPER® Animation. Vimeo. Mattias Berg, 20 July 2010. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <https://vimeo.com/13480254>.
  6. Walsh, Matt. “Whopper Sacrifice.” Matt Walsh UX. Matt Walsh UX, 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://www.mattwalshux.com/whopper-sacrifice/>.
  7. Wortham, Jenna. “‘Whopper Sacrifice’ De-Friended on Facebook.” Web log post. Bits. New York Times, 15 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/whopper-sacrifice-de-friended-on-facebook/>.
  8. O’Brien, Cory. “Burger King Lets People Sacrifice Friendships For Whoppers.” Web log post. The Future of Ads. The Future of Ads, 09 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://thefutureofads.com/burger-king-lets-people-sacrifice-friendships-for-whoppers>.
  9. Whopper Sacrifice Team Interview. One Show. YouTube, 03 May 2011. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asOBUp9UdGE>.
  10. Whopper Sacrifice. Perf. Addmin. Whopper Sacrifice. YouTube, 10 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw1l4wTmABU>.
  11. O’Neill, Paige. “Case Study: Burger King Drives Sales with Facebook Promotion.” Weblog post. Observations on the Culture of Digital. Paige O’Neill, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <http://paigeoneill.com/2011/02/15/case-study-burger-king-drives-sales-with-facebook-promotion/>.
  12. McCarthy, Caroline. “The Dark Secrets of Whopper Sacrifice – CNET.” Web log post. CNET. CNET, 03 Apr. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. http://www.cnet.com/news/the-dark-secrets-of-whopper-sacrifice/>.
WHOPPER® Sacrifice by Suhaily Erkkila and Alyssa Korinke

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