Let’s Make Burger King Accountable

On its website, Burger King shows a video about social responsibility with Pete Smith, one of its top managers, talking about the importance of diversity and treating people respectfully. 

Apparently Mr. Smith has not watched the newest television commercials that his company is broadcasting on prime time.

The Burger King — which is, I guess, what you call the company’s mascot — is shown being chased by two men in white coats. A woman watching the chase helps the fleeing King by tossing water in one of the men’s faces while the other man screams that the King is CRAZY. Meanwhile, the King runs away.

Get it? Little men in white coats chasing someone who is crazy. Ha, ha, ha.

The ad, of course, turns people with serious mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression into a  punch line. Oh, those CRAZY people need to be locked up.  The ad is demeaning and it  marginalizes people with serious disorders while increasing stigma and harmful stereotypes.

Maybe Burger King will launch a new campaign that pokes fun at persons with breast cancer or shows someone letting the air out of the tires of a person confined in a wheelchair. Maybe it can find humor in Down’s Syndrome.

Burger King’s national headquarters is in Miami, Florida, which is where I did research for my book about the criminalization of persons with mental disorders. It’s a city where Judge Steven Leifman is working hard to fight stigma and improve community services.

The chairman of BK is John W. Chidsey and he also is on the Burger King website talking about corporate responsibility. I’m sending Mr. Chidsey a letter and hope you will too. I searched for a  Burger King email address on its site, but couldn’t find one. It does, however, have a fan page on FACEBOOK

I know it is difficult to get a huge corporation to stop running an advertisement that it paid millions to use in its promotion. But making fun of persons with mental disorders should not be acceptable to anyone in a civilized society.

People ask me what they can do to combat stigma. Well, here’s an easy way — spread the word on the Internet. Send this blog to a friend. Post complaints on Burger King’s Facebook page.

Let your voice be heard. Get angry and do something! lt will only take a few seconds. If you are in NAMI or MHA or another support group, then spread the word!

If Burger King really cares about corporate responsibility, it will understand our concern — your concern — and pull the ad.

I’m sure we will have people complain that protesting this ad is political correctness run amok.  But years ago, racist jokes were acceptable in some circles too. They stopped when people made it clear that demeaning others is no laughing matter.

So please join me in telling Burger King that “we want it our way” and our way means that the company needs to put an end to this offensive ad that makes fun of persons with serious disorders by presenting them as persons who need to be caught and locked up.

Let’s make Burger King accountable for the words that its management preaches so easily on the company webpage but clearly ignores in marketing.

Letter to:

John W. Chidsey, Chairman, Burger King, 5505 Blue Lagoon Drive, Miami, Florida, 33126

Dear Mr. Chidsey,

I hope that you and your family never have to deal with a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression. If you or one of your loved ones becomes sick, you will quickly discover that there is nothing funny about mental disorders. Often persons with mental disorders end-up homeless, others are incarcerated, and many commit suicide.

Which is why your company’s current television advertisement that shows the Burger King being chased by two men in white coats because he is CRAZY is demeaning and insulting.  It marginalizes people who are sick. It  makes fun of them. And it contributes to stigma by suggesting that persons with mental illnesses need to be locked up.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, one out of every four Americans this year will suffer symptoms of a major mental illness.

It’s unfortunate that rather than trying to improve these people’s lives, you and your company are hoping to profit from their suffering by contributing to stigma that keeps many of them from seeking help and makes their recovery even more difficult.

As the father of a son with a serious mental disorder, I hope you will pull this commercial off television. Your company website brags about your commitment to our community. If that were true, you would be offering a helping hand to persons with mental disorders, rather than using their problems as a joke.


Pete Earley

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.