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Burger King thought it had a great idea. Instead, it ended up with a Whopper of a problem.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/13/2017 Hayley Tsukayama

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Related video: Google just killed Burger King's newest TV ad that had a disastrous flaw (provided by Business Insider)

Update: Burger King successfully ran an alternate version of its advertisement designed to trigger Google Home devices late Wednesday, the company said in an emailed statement Thursday. "Last night, Burger King launched very similar commercials that 100% triggered the smart speaker technology. The commercials aired during Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon," said spokeswoman Dara Schopp. The company altered the ad's audio in such a way that it was able to get around whatever block the Google Home had against the original commercial. Schopp also said that Burger King saw a 300 percent increase in "social conversation" on Twitter as compared to the day before — indicating that, good or bad, the commercial got people talking about the company.

Original report: A Burger King ad designed to trigger Google's voice-activated Home smart speaker and have the device advertise the Whopper no longer works.

The ad, released Wednesday, features an actor dressed as a Burger King employee, who says, “Okay, Google: What is the Whopper burger?” The line is meant to trigger the device to reel off the definition of a Whopper using the first line of the burger's Wikipedia page. (Yes, the Whopper has its own Wikipedia page.)

Roughly three hours after the ad launched, the ad stopped working. Google's Home would only light up in response to the commercial's prompt and stay mum (although it will give you the first line of the Wikipedia article if you explicitly request the definition of a “Whopper burger”).

The fast-food company confirmed that the ad no longer triggers the speaker, but it said it would still air the ad — and indicated that the ad may start working again. “You’ll have to tune in tonight to see if the commercial triggers the Whopper sandwich definition response,” said Burger King spokesman Brooke Scher Mogan.

Mogan said Burger King saw the ad as an opportunity to “do something exciting with the emerging technology of intelligent personal assistant devices.”

Google did not respond to requests for comment.

A person familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak on the record said the fast-food chain did not consult Google before making the commercial.

While commercials — often those about home hubs — have accidentally triggered voice assistants in people's homes before, this seems to be the first time an ad has tried to do it intentionally. Based on comments on the ad's YouTube page, many consumers did not appreciate having their devices hijacked.

“When you take over someones phone or tablet and have it do your own remote commands intentionally, you are HACKING,” read one comment.

A Burger King in Los Angeles has specials plastered on its windows in this 2015 photo.© Damian Dovarganes/AP A Burger King in Los Angeles has specials plastered on its windows in this 2015 photo.

In fact, it may be a blessing for Burger King that the ad no longer works as intended because the advertisement almost immediately backfired on the fast-food chain. Once the ad started gaining attention, Wikipedia users began altering the first line of the article about Burger King's Whopper. These edits included references to the burger as “cancer-causing” and stating that its ingredients include “cyanide.”

It appears that Burger King itself tried to fix the Wikipedia problem. The first sentence changed to a suspiciously glowing description of the Whopper, authored by user “Fermachado123" — a name that sounds similar to Fernando Machado, Burger King's senior vice president for global brand management.

Burger King did not confirm or deny that Machado edited the article.

Privacy concerns about voice-activated speakers and the connected home have been on the rise as more companies have introduced these products, putting pressure on the makers of voice-operated security systems and door locks to ensure that their devices can't be triggered by unauthorized voices.

The place of advertising on the Google Home and similar products has been thoroughly debated by users as they have become more commonplace. Many users don't want to be spammed with ads delivered by what they consider personal assistants. Google subjected itself to criticism after Home users heard what appeared to be an unprompted plug for Disney's “Beauty and Beast” when the film opened last month.

Google said at the time that mentioning the film wasn't meant to be an ad but simply a notice to users about what was timely that day, according to a statement provided to CNET. “We're continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case,” a Google spokesman said.


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