By E.J. Schultz
Speaking for the first time about her highly criticized Burger King ad, Mary J. Blige today suggested the fast-feeder released an unfinished version of the spot, while seeking support from her fans.
"I agreed to be a part of a fun and creative campaign that was supposed to feature a dream sequence," Ms. Blige said in a statement. "Unfortunately, that’s not what was happening in that clip, so I understand my fans being upset by what they saw. But, if you’re a Mary fan, you have to know I would never allow an unfinished spot like the one you saw to go out."
The ad for the marketer’s new Crispy Chicken Snack Wraps, which can still be seen here, drew complaints across the internet, with some saying it was not worthy of a star of Ms. Blige’s stature and others suggesting it fed stereotypes relating to African-Americans and fried chicken.
The ad was originally posted on Burger King’s YouTube channel Monday, but by Tuesday morning it had been removed, fueling speculation that it was pulled for good. Burger King has stuck by the ad, saying on Tuesday that it had been removed because of a "music-licensing issue."
But today, a Burger King spokesman told Ad Age in an email that "the spot released did not include a dream sequence that was shot during the production," seemingly agreeing with Ms. Blige. He added: "We are in the process of re-editing the spot to reflect the original concept."
The spokesman acknowledged the ad had already appeared on "a very limited rotation on local TV," in addition to the YouTube channel. On learning of the questions, BK "immediately pulled the ad from rotation," the company said. Asked to elaborate on the approval issues, he cited a "licensing issue with the music/lyrics." He added that "there were multiple parties involved in the production, and [we] do not have specifics on where the lapse in communication occurred." The agency for the ad is Mother, New York.
In a separate statement, the fast-feeder said it "would like to apologize to Mary J. and all of her fans for airing an ad that was not final."
A corporate-communications expert who is not involved in the matter said it seems unlikely that a major advertiser would release an ad in any format before getting all the appropriate agreements. "Nothing, nothing goes out the door unless it’s reviewed by corporate affairs and legal and all of those questions are asked," said the person, who has worked for several major marketers. "In my experience, no advertising would have been released without all of the I’s dotted and T’s crossed, and that includes licensing for music as well as all of the appropriate talent arrangements in place."
According to people close to the situation, the ad that some people involved in the process were expecting was more like another one Burger King cut involving David Beckham for its new smoothies. In that ad the soccer star orders a strawberry-banana smoothie as a female cashier gazes lovingly into his eyes in what appears to be a dream sequence.
Even if the Blige ad is redone, it might be hard to overcome the criticism that has spread on the web, including on sites such as Gawker, which called out the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" for "indulging in unsavory behavior for the sake of savory chicken sandwiches."
The ad is part of a larger campaign that uses a host of expensive celebrities such as Jay Leno, David Beckham, Steven Tyler and Sofia Vergara to push salads, chicken wraps, smoothies, frappes and other new items featured in what the fast-feeder calls its biggest menu expansion in its 58-year history.
The controversy comes at an inopportune time for Burger King, which yesterday announced plans to go public.