For the Peeple

On September 30th, 2015 Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullogh announced their app to the world. It was called ‘Peeple’, and they’d been building it throughout the summer months. Julia Cordray had come to California from Calgary, AB and was determined to build an app in 90 days with her friend. The process was primarily focused on solidifying and validating the concept, and then moving forward with an app development team. During their development summer, the duo produced 12 ‘webisodes’ documenting their process. From conceptualizing the app to validating their idea to actually going into development meetings, Cordray and McCullogh were transparent with their motivations and thoughts during the process.

On September 30th, 2015 the pair was featured in a Washington Post Article. within 24 hours the Peeple app had gone viral and news outlets from around the globe were weighing in on the concept. Far from the positive response Cordray and McCullogh had expected though, internet communities countered with ridicule and anger at the overall idea.

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The idea was simple. Cordray had built two incredibly successful HR and recruiting companies and wanted a tool that would help recruiters to better match potential candidates with jobs. She partnered with McCullogh to create an app to allow verified individuals to rate one another, and to leave comments regarding a user’s character and personality. The underlying thought was that this kind of a tool would create positivity and build people up. Rather than stopping at professional relationships however, the two chose to expand their ratings categories. A user would be able to rate individuals they knew in a professional, personal, or dating relationship. Incorporating on October 24, 2014 and planning to launch exactly one year later, Cordray began fundraising. As they added shareholders and built equity, the ladies also documented their journey and posted webisodes on their YouTube channel. A Facebook page and Twitter account were also used to share milestones in the stages Peeple’s development.

Almost immediately following the backlash Peeple’s founders experienced in the wake of their formal media announcement, comments began being deleted, most of the webisodes were removed from their channel, the app’s social media presence was scrubbed, and the website was taken down. The videos from the official YouTube channel had been downloaded and were made available by a third party, and the website later reappeared with a vague statement regarding an upcoming announcement and a request to look for more information after October 12th. On October 16, 2015 Julia Cordray appeared on the Dr. Phil show to share her side of the story.

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Cordray listened to the backlash and there have been some drastic changes to the functionality of the proposed app. In the initial reports users would have been able to add a new profile to the database with simply a cell phone number, content would not be removed, and only poor ratings would have the opportunity for review before posting. Aside from the questionable ethics of adding a user without an explicit opt-in, the potential for bullying and harassment sparked a powder keg in the media and shows from CBS to local news shows to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight were all covering the debacle.

While the idea to create a rating system for people isn’t a completely original idea, Peeple’s founders did receive some positive feedback during fundraising. efforts, primarily in connection with the hiring and recruitment potential. Peeple is still going forward, and is currently accepting beta testers on the website, but with significant changes. The app idea may be ill-conceived and naïve, but with a social media strategy and a crisis management plan, the app may have had a fighting chance.


SWOT Analysis:



From a recruitment perspective, an application that offers insight into a candidate’s personality and management style could be extremely beneficial. Cultural fit is one of the more important aspects in determining success of job placement, but is the most difficult to predict. With more data from a variety of sources, fit could be more easily gauged before signing bonuses and stock options were in the mix.



Adding multiple categories to be rated on dilutes the purpose of the app. Various social media platforms exist because of the affordances inherent in each. LinkedIn is used very differently than Facebook because it is geared toward a more professional use case. Peeple should have focused on the career capabilities and avoided personal relationships.

Another weakness in the initial app announcement was the lack of awareness regarding audience perception. During the “Validating the App” webisode the duo did ask for feedback, but disregarded negative feedback from potential investors while celebrating every bit of positive feedback. A healthy campaign is a well informed campaign. Burying your head in the sand as a response to potential headaches is simply a recipe for disaster.

Lack of authenticity and transparency were major issues with Peeple. The app would allow for anyone to post about anyone else, regardless of whether they opted to become a user or notand comments would not be removed. During the early part of October the social media pages for Peeple were removing comments, blocking followers, and harrassing others. The pages then all came down, and comments were locked on the YouTube channel. Rather than acknowledging the issues with the app design, Cordray chose to pivot the app and ignore the previous statements. Instead of owning up to their poor behavior, she immediately began a PR campaign to paint the app as misunderstood. The new version of the app is a watered down and opt-in only positivity app. The new version is no longer helpful for the HR sector, and has turned into a non-event.


The biggest opportunity has already passed, but there is a small chance of harnessing the viral nature of the initial media firestorm. Peeple’s purpose needs to be more solidly defined. Rather than going after multiple user segments, Cordray should focus on professional and industry users. The rating and comments segments could really help in a recruitment setting.

Another opportunity is to apologize. Being authentic and gaining trust begins with owning your mistakes as a company and being transparent as you move to correct them. An open dialog with beta testers about how to improve functionality and address privacy concerns would make a world of difference in their reception.

Threats: Apps already exist that rate people. Focusing on the social segment will just muddy the waters with the exisiting products. The reputation Peeple has gained is unlikely to improve without a total brand rehabilitation project, and so other apps are more likely to be used.

For the Peeple:

The app is still moving ahead. Beta testers are being recruited, and the founders continue to show up in the media from time to time, but the biggest takeaway we can get from this situation is how important a strategy is. Cordray and McCullogh built a solid business plan, they forcasted earnings and worked closely with developers on prototyping the actual app. What they failed to do was think of social media as a vital part of their business rather than just a communications medium. They posted some videos and shared updates with their followers, but did not think about the potential fall out. In the Dr. Phil segment we can see how bewildered Corday is when asked how the team never thought about the bullying potential. A communications strategy and policy is a key element to any start up. Knowing how to respond in any situation, and having thought through the potential for backlash, not only prepares a small business for a situation precisely like this, but also gives an opportunity to review the product and the campaign for potential threats and weaknesses. Crisis management is not only about what you do when there is a problem, it’s about how to avoid a potential crisis in the first place.



Works Cited:

Cordray, Julia. “I Became a Trending Topic for the Wrong Reasons. Here’s Why We Need Peeple, the Positivity App I’m Building.” LinkedIn Pulse. LinkedIn, 4 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. <;.


Farivar, Cyrus. “Facing a Strong Backlash, Person-rating App Peeple Seemingly Vanishes.” Editorial. Arstechnica. Condé Nast, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. <;.


Dewey, Caitlin. “Everyone You Know Will Be Able to Rate You on the Terrifying ‘Yelp for People’ — Whether You Want Them to or Not.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2015. <;.


Ghoshal, Abhimanyu. “Peeple’s App Has Pivoted and Is Now Completely Pointless.” TNW Network All Stories RSS. The Next Web, Inc, 05 Oct. 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. <;.


The Dr. Phil Show. “Creator of Peeple, App That Lets You Rate Other People, Sets Record Straight About Product.” HuffPost Dr. Phil. The Huffington Post, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 3 Nov. 2015. <;.


Hern, Alex. “; The Guardian. The Guardian News and Media Ltd, 6 Oct. 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <;.


Sollosi, Mary. “‘Yelp for People’ App Will Let You ‘rate’ Real-life Human Beings.” Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainment Weekly, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. <;.


Lafferty, Justin. “Peeple App, Described as ‘Yelp for People,’ Won’t Let You Opt Out of Being Reviewed.” SocialTimes. Ad Week, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. <;.


Wylie, Melissa. “Peeple’s Pages Are Gone, but App Is Still on the Way.” Upstart Business Journal. American City Business Journals, 6 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. <;.


Tannenbaum, Melanie. “How the Peeple App’s Psychological Logic Misses The Mark.” Gizmodo. Gizmodo, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <;.


Clayton, Sarah. “Change Management Meets Social Media.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Publishing, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. <;.


Baraniuk, Chris. “Peeple Sites ‘disappear’ from Web after Backlash over App.” BBC News. BBC News Services, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. <;.


Farivar, Cyrus. “Peeple, the Unreleased App the Internet Loves to Hate, Pushes Forward.” Arstechnica. Condé Nast, 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 1 Nov. 2015. <;.


Toshniwal, Ashish. “What To Do — And What To Avoid — When Branding Your App.” The Huffington Post., 19 May 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2015. <;.


Roy, Jessica. “The Reinvention of Peeple, an App That Doesn’t Even Exist Yet.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 6 Oct. 2015. Web. 1 Nov. 2015. <;.


Warren, Christina. “Widely Loathed Peeple App Mysteriously Goes into Hibernation.” Mashable. Mashable Inc5, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 1 Nov. 2015. <;.


LaCapria, Kim. “Peeple Bleater.” Snopes. Urban Legends References Page, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 3 Nov. 2015. <;.


Fortney, Valerie. “Fortney: Peeple App Creator Stands Firm, in a Bathroom.” Calgary Herald. Postmedia Network Inc, 07 Oct. 2015. Web. 6 Nov. 2015. <;.


“For the Peeple.” Peeple. Peep Inc, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. <;.

For the Peeple

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 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.


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  7. Wortham, Jenna. “‘Whopper Sacrifice’ De-Friended on Facebook.” Web log post. Bits. New York Times, 15 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <>.
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  9. Whopper Sacrifice Team Interview. One Show. YouTube, 03 May 2011. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <>.
  10. Whopper Sacrifice. Perf. Addmin. Whopper Sacrifice. YouTube, 10 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <>.
  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. <>.
  12. McCarthy, Caroline. “The Dark Secrets of Whopper Sacrifice – CNET.” Web log post. CNET. CNET, 03 Apr. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.>.
WHOPPER® Sacrifice by Suhaily Erkkila and Alyssa Korinke