Watchdog bans ad campaign for Unilever-made Rebel Whopper

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

The ASA has banned an advertising campaign promoting Burger King's 'first plant-based burger', the Rebel Whopper / Image source: Burger King
The ASA has banned an advertising campaign promoting Burger King's 'first plant-based burger', the Rebel Whopper / Image source: Burger King

Related tags: Burger king, Unilever

The UK Advertising Standards Authority has banned an advertising campaign for Burger King’s Rebel Whopper – which uses a patty made by Unilever-owned The Vegetarian Butcher – for implying it is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

While the Rebel Whopper soy-based patty itself is 100% free of animal products, it is cooked alongside other meat products and served with an egg-based mayonnaise.

The advertising campaign included promotions on social media platforms Twitter and Facebook. In January 2020, a tweet on Burger King UK’s account described the Rebel Whopper as the company’s ‘first plant-based burger’ – highlighting that the product is ‘100% Whopper. No beef’.

A Facebook post announcing the new offering, also published in January this year, included an image with the logo ‘Powered by The Vegetarian Butcher’, accompanied by small text reading: ‘Product is cooked alongside meat products’.

Misleading marketing?

UK advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), heard from 10 complainants concerning Burger King’s Rebel Whopper.

The soy-based patty itself is sourced from plant-based meat alternative brand The Vegetarian Butcher – which was acquired by food giant Unilever in late 2018.  

The complainants questioned the use of the terms ‘100% Whopper. No beef’ and ‘plant-based burger’ for a product not suitable for vegans, vegetarians, or those with egg allergies. Such terminology could be misleading, they challenged.

For Burger King owner BKUK Group Ltd, however, the ads explained the product may not be suitable for these groups in the small print. Such information was ‘clearly communicated’ to journalists, as well as on social media posts and subsequent customer dialogue, the company added.

Burger King also decided to exclude The Vegetarian Butcher logo from TV as it was considered potentially misleading.

Complaints upheld

Today (15 April), the ASA announced its decision to ban the ads in their current form. The watchdog has informed BKUK Group Ltd to ensure it does not misleadingly imply that a product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians if it was not.

The verdict was influenced by several factors. Firstly, the ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims ‘100% Whopper. No beef’ and ‘plant-based burger’ to mean the product contained no animal products.

The presence of ‘The Vegetarian Butcher’ logo, in a green colour palette, and the timing of the ad to coincide with Veganuary, further contributed to the impression the product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians, noted the regulator.

The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3, the watchdog continued: “Because the overall impression of the ads was that the burger was suitable for vegans and vegetarians when in fact it was not, we concluded that the ads were misleading.”

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