Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) has deleted all online evidence of its latest campaign video, which featured a white man telling independent curry house owners that their food is not authentically Indian. The film was labelled as 'racist' by a number of online commentators.
The #CurryWars campaign was created to promote the restaurant chain’s Ruby Murray burger, which the brand claims is ‘good enough to start a curry war’. It was devised by integrated London agency You.
The burger’s marketing centred on a social video shot in a documentary style. The spot featured a bearded white man donned in a GBK-branded sandwich board loitering around independent east London curry houses and telling prospective customers that the fare inside was not “proper Indian”.
He goes on to list the ingredients in the Ruby Murray burger featured on his sandwich board, stating to passers-by via a megaphone that the dish is "authentically" Indian, while the restaurants he is standing next to are not.
In the final scene, one of the owners confronts the man over his claims. The protagonist quickly scarpers.
Response to the video was largely negative on Twitter, with a number of commentators labelling the spot as ‘racist’.
delete this. Then hire more minorities in senior positions so they can inform you when you’re being racist bc clearly you can’t tell by yourselves.
— Amnacadabra ♀️ (@AGlasgowGirl) October 18, 2018
Yeah this is racist. And I'm guessing you don't even understand why. So can I suggest that before you issue the inevitable apology, you learn why. — Gary Dunion (@garydunion) October 18, 2018
GBK has now removed the video from its social channels and apologised to "those that were offended" by the film.
To those offended by our Ruby Murray video, we humbly apologise. The video was intended to be humorous. We know that a burger could never pass off as an authentic Indian dish. Having read your comments we've made the decision to take down the content. Unreserved Apologies, GBK — GourmetBurgerKitchen (@gbkburgers) October 18, 2018
Michael Carr, the chief executive of You Agency, told The Drum that there was "no racist angle intended" in the video.
"Our campaigns have always been rooted in an unwavering belief in the quality of the burgers, and in this instance the joke is in the absurdity that a curry burger could possibly compete with genuine Indian cuisine," he said. "It is a humorous call for a curry war, with the ridiculously blind belief in the Ruby Murray burger sitting at the heart of the claim– nothing more and nothing less."
In a blogpost for PR Examples, the executive creative director of W Communications, Mark Perkins, explained why he felt the campaign was offensive.
“A white man protesting outside an Asian business and questioning the authenticity of their Indian food is a terrible idea,” he wrote. “At a time when ethnic minorities are reporting an increase in harassment and abuse in the UK and across Europe this is poorly judged.
"Brands should be doing more something more positive than declaring curry war and declaring themselves a ‘proper Indian’ on Asian businesses (not all of which will be Indian, but also Bangladeshi or Pakistani).”
He added that in instances where a brand “wants to create a bit of mischief”, he recommends “punching up” to big corporations and figures of authority and warns against punching down to “the little guy, least of all small businesses on the high street who are struggling to stay afloat as it is”.
Asad Dhunna, who founded the marketing communications consultancy The Unmistakables to help leaders understand minorities, told The Drum he felt the brand’s creation of an ‘Indian burger’ is problematic in itself.
“In a recent survey we did at The Unmistakables, 90% of South Asians said food is one of the biggest bonds they have to their home countries - that's higher than music and native language,” he said. “For a burger chain to come in and lay claim that it understands all of the nuance that goes behind the meaning of curry for the Indian community shows a level of tone deafness I haven't seen since Pepsi's Kendall Jenner advert. The agency should have intervened and told them the product is a bad idea, not willingly take the brief for the dollar.
“It shows that there was not one person of Indian heritage involved throughout the decision-making process. This is categorically the biggest problem in our industry - that the people in the closed rooms of power do not represent society. It's systematic and how many more campaigns that miss the mark like this are we going to see?”
GBK found itself under attack for mocking vegetarians and vegans with a separate campaign in 2016. The brand apologised on social media shortly after.