Burger King’s ‘OK Google’ ad deliberately, annoyingly, wakes up voice-command devices

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 9:26pm

Pepsi has dominated the headlines over the past week for having the most irritating and offensive US TV advertisement, but Burger King may now have now taken the mantle with an ad that includes a command that deliberately wakes up voice-activated Google Home devices.

The 15-second ad, which started airing Wednesday, features a man in a Burger King uniform leaning into the camera to say: “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

People with the Google Home assistant and Android phones with voice search enabled within listening range of their TV will discover the command triggers devices to read aloud the Wikipedia entry for Burger King’s flagship burger.

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“We saw it as a technology to essentially punch through that fourth wall,” Burger King’s president, José Cil, told BuzzFeed News, adding that it is a “cool way to connect directly with our guests”.

The reaction to the campaign calls into question just how “cool” this advertising technique is. Many viewers have complained that it is intrusive, unnecessary, gimmicky and possibly only designed to elicit an irritated response. Is there even any value – beyond provocation – in a home device reading out a description of the Whopper?

Some annoyed viewers took a proactive approach, by editing the Whopper’s Wikipedia entry to result in less-than-flattering descriptions.

At one stage the definition had been changed to insert “cyanide” as an ingredient. Another user later changed the definition to say the Whopper is “the worst hamburger product” sold by the chain.

It’s unlikely there will be a flood of annoying ads like this partly because of the consumer backlash but also because both Amazon and Google are exploring introducing specific voice recognition to their services. Being able to distinguish between two or more voices in the home is useful for tailoring the services to personal preferences, but could also help prevent this type of device hijacking.

This is not the first time that television broadcasts have triggered voice devices at home. In January, a San Diego TV station reported on a story that a six-year-old had mistakenly ordered a dollhouse by talking to the Amazon Echo device. Within the report, the presenter said live on air: “Alexa, order me a dollhouse,” causing viewers’ own Echoes to also attempt to order dollhouses.

The command placed dollhouses into their shopping carts, but users need to confirm the order in order for any payment to be taken.

In 2014, the Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul appeared in an Xbox ad that accidentally switched people’s games consoles on because it featured the wake-up command “Xbox on”.

Google had no involvement in the advertisement and declined to comment on it.