Burger King ate up the headlines in June after retirement faux pas

July 21, 2022

Written by Benedict Nicholson

In June, Burger King made headlines for the wrong reasons after the restaurant chain was dragged into a crisis based on a retirement gift given to an employee at a Las Vegas location. 

Kevin Ford — the employee in question — had been working at the chain for 27 years and never missed a day of work. He was rewarded for his years of service with a goodie bag containing a movie ticket, candy, and a Starbucks cup.

The crisis for Burger King began when social media users accused Burger King of failing to appreciate their workers, after a video of the goodie bag Ford received upon his retirement went viral. This spiraled into more than a week’s worth of coverage, as the narrative moved towards the fundraising effort and celebrities became involved in the narrative. 

Out of the top 250 stories about brands, 23 of them (~9%) were about the developments at Burger King, while the stories were responsible for a similar proportion of public interest (~8%). The story initially sat for around a day with very little engagement before being covered by TMZ. That’s when engagement really began to pick up, and a GoFundMe was launched for the employee in question.

Graph comparing the public and media interest in the Burger King employee who received hundreds of thousands of dollars after a GoFundMe campaign

The narrative eventually switched to being more about the fundraising effort, as celebrities such as David Spade and others contributed, but even in these stories Burger King continued to be framed as the villain.

In total, there were more than 800 articles published and almost 2 million engagements to those stories, making it one of the biggest narratives of the month as a whole, even beyond just brand-focused content, and even continued into July.

While Burger King was one of the dominant narratives, they certainly weren’t the only brand talked about in June. Here are some of the other things you need to know this month.

Key learnings from June’s brand coverage

1. Schadenfreude can drive high engagement

One of the biggest political stories involving a brand was around Walmart’s move to no longer stock MyPillow products. MyPillow’s owner and CEO Mike Lindell had been closely involved with election conspiracy theories in the wake of the 2020 election, and has repeatedly claimed that the election was stolen.

Walmart was written about 18 times in the top 250 stories, and had a similar level of engagement from the public as Burger King did, with top stories coming from mainstream news outlets including Axios and Business Insider. Many of the posts sharing the news focused on Lindell’s reaction to the news.

2. When Elon Musk speaks, the world pays attention

We said it in last month’s coverage too, but Elon Musk was almost unavoidable on the internet again in June, thereby dragging Tesla into myriad conversations — this time mostly about workers’ ability to work from home. He insinuated that it’s impossible to bring as much value to a company from home as you do from the office, and warned his workforce that they would have to find new jobs soon if they weren’t committed to working in-person.

Other narratives about Tesla included a car spontaneously catching on fire in a junkyard and layoffs at the company

Employee relations was a huge topic generally, with Tesla driving a lot of this coverage. 74 of the top 250 stories were about employee relations, with other brands involved including the Burger King story, IBM laying off workers, and Amazon running out of people to hire.

3. Business Insider was a runaway success in June

In May, the top publishers writing about brands were fairly evenly distributed, but in June there was one clear champion. 

Business Insider was responsible for 21 of the top 250 stories — more than double the amount it managed in June — covering everything from the MyPillow/Walmart fallout to gas tax holidays to potential fines for deepfakes on platforms.

Cheryl Teh, Tim Levin, Isobel Asher Hamilton, and Grace Kay had particular success, with all of these authors having multiple entries in the top 250.

June, then, was very much a varied month for brand coverage, but employee relations took center stage for many brands, while Elon Musk ate up the limelight in a way that only he can.

If you’d like to see what news is resonating about your brand, you can get in touch with us here.

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Benedict Nicholson

In addition to leading the NewsWhip Research Center in New York, Benedict Nicholson manages partnerships with internationally recognized media outlets furthering data journalism, which includes NewsWhip’s Data for Democracy program. Benedict also facilitates consultations with communicators from the top 10 public relations agencies across America and Europe and with Fortune 500 brands to discuss consumer engagement trends and effective media monitoring. Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.

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