Earlier this week I wrote about the new campaign from Burger King called Whopper Sacrifice where you could get rid of friends on Facebook for a free hamburger. At the time I had wondered if it would become a problem for Facebook because it was actually weakening the site and if they would take any action against it. Well today Facebook informed Burger King that the application could not continue in it’s current form because it goes against the site’s “user expectations”. Facebook explicitly says it will not inform users when a friend is removed so Facebook’s tech team disabled the friend removal notification feature. After learning about the restrictions BK pulled the plug on it and the site which now reads “Whopper Sacrifice has been Sacrificed. Facebook has disabled Whopper Sacrifice after your love for the Whopper sandwich proved to be stronger than 233,906 friendships.”. The final tally was that In just a week the application had 82,000 users and more than 230,000 friends removed.
So with this campaign we finally saw a smart, successful advertising campaign that was able to use Facebook to generate explosive viral buzz that was quickly followed by the realization that Facebook may never be a successful advertising platform. The reason is that you are going to find the most freedom and creative possibilities by developing applications instead of a more traditional ad buy on Facebook. By going with the application route you can get a much more viral response but you are also leaving Facebook out of the loop which can lead to a situation like this. That situation is problematic because unlike the uproar between Facebook and the Lactivists which centered around Facebook’s documented content policies Whopper Sacrifice was pulled for a violation of an undocumented “user expectation”. We all know that really means that is a well massaged way of saying that Facebook didn’t want the application doing damage to the site and needed a way to stop it. I have said before that their policies surround applications and their development are the biggest weak point on the site. They let horrible racist content live on because it doesn’t hurt the site but then kill an ad campaign because it does. They need to wake up and get serious about how they are going to handle that aspect of the site if they want brand to use it as a serious communication tool which they will also benefit from in the end.