South African-owned Gourmet Burger Kitchen is facing a massive PR crisis after its stunt to promote a curry hamburger in the UK went horribly wrong.
Famous Brands – which owns Steers, Debonairs Pizza, Wimpy, Mugg & Bean, Fishaways, Milky Lane among other SA fast-food brands – bought the UK chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen for more than R2 billion two years ago.
It has proven to be a disastrous investment and Famous Brands warned last week that its losses from the chain have reached more than R40 million in the past six months.
More trouble followed this week after the company had to apologise for an ill-judged marketing stunt that triggered outrage in the UK.
In a video - since deleted - posted on GBK's Twitter feed on Tuesday, a GBK representative is seen outside small Indian restaurants trying to tempt customers to try GBK’s Ruby Murray burger instead.
The man wore a large placard and shouted through a megaphone, The Drum reported. In a high-volume pitch, he claimed to bystanders that GBK was "proper Indian" curry.
‘Your favourite curry is not authentic. Try a proper Indian’ GBK wrote on their Twitter page.
The video sparked widespread social media outrage with users commenting that the video is tone-deaf and racist.
“One of the most astoundingly ill-conceived viral ads I've ever seen, which boils down to a white guy harassing British Asians in the street,” Telegraph newspaper film-critic Robbie Collin tweeted.
me, an advertising creative on £100ks: so we looked at the data, and found the best way to generate publicity for your chain's new burger is by getting a white guy to recreate the sandwich board scene from die hard 3, but this time he's harassing independent indian restaurants pic.twitter.com/sJQvT4lr3l— Stan The Golden Boy (@tristandross) October 18, 2018
“Probably want to take this one down guys,” @TheSophasaurus said. “Nobody wants to buy anything from a company that is harassing and attempting to take business away from small business owners.”
“Hire more minorities in senior positions so they can inform you when you’re being racist bc clearly you can’t tell by yourselves,” @AGlasgowGirl said.
GBK on Thursday "unreservedly apologised" for video and said it intended to be "humorous".
“We know that a burger could never pass off as an authentic Indian dish. Having read your comments we've made the decision to take down the content," the eatery tweeted.
To those offended by our Ruby Murray video, we humbly apologise. The video was intended to be humorous. We know that a burger could never pass off as an authentic Indian dish. Having read your comments we've made the decision to take down the content. Unreserved Apologies, GBK— GourmetBurgerKitchen (@gbkburgers) October 18, 2018
GBK was founded in London - more than 7,000km from India - in 2001. And while the Ruby Murray burger has Indian seasoning, side dishes such as poppadom and mango chutney and sesame seed buns, it doesn't contain any real curry, Metro reported. Curry came to be known colloquially as Ruby Murry in the UK.
The latest bad news could force Famous Brands to expedite its planned intervention at the struggling UK chain.
"Famous Brands is giving consideration to strategic options relating to a subsidiary that may have a material impact on the price of the company’s share price," the company said in a statement last week. This probably mean either shutting GBK down, or finding a willing seller – which could prove tricky after the latest crisis.
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