Why A Burger King Ad Featuring A Famous Singer Stirred Controversy

Burger King has made several commercials over the years featuring various celebrities and familiar faces, several of which are listed on Audio Network. Generally, these ads are typically intended to be amusing or playful, and many are well-received by viewers. For example, take the commercial in which actors Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez recreated their lunch scene from their 2004 film, "Napoleon Dynamite" in order to promote the return of the restaurant's Cheesy Tots. During the scene, the tot-obsessed Napoleon (Heder) takes all of the tots he can from Pedro (Ramirez), just as he did in the movie — sans storing them in his pocket. For another, consider the commercial in which rapper Snoop Dogg appeared as a fictitious training ambassador to (ostensibly) train viewers about Burger King's Grilled Dogs, describing the hot dog and toppings in true Snoop D-O-Double-G fashion.

But in 2012, the chain pulled a celebrity commercial featuring none other than the queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J. Blige, after receiving backlash from viewers. As Rolling Stone reported at the time, Burger King retracted the ad because, according to the franchise, it "hit a snag with music licensing." The Grammy-winning singer appeared in the commercial to promote the restaurant's new Crispy Chicken Snack Wraps, and both Burger King and Blige had something to say about it.

Why was Mary J. Blige's Burger King commercial controversial?

The commercial, which is still viewable on YouTube, begins with a Burger King customer asking the cashier what's in the franchise's new chicken wraps. A manager confirms the question, but suddenly, Mary J. Blige pops up in the background and interrupts the exchange by echoing the customer's question. The manager invites Blige to "take it away," and the scene changes to something comparable to a music video, complete with colorful lights in the background. Blige accordingly answers the "what's in the chicken wrap" question with her 2011 "Don't Mind" song, replacing the lyrics with words about the chicken wrap ingredients. Burger King customers dance approvingly in the foreground, with some sporting Burger King crowns.

After the ad aired, Essence reported that viewers expressed their disapproval on social media, claiming that it fed into racist stereotypes specifically regarding Black people and fried chicken. (For context: This connection, as University of Missouri professor Claire Schmidt explained to NPR in 2013, stemmed from how chickens were "cheap, easy to feed and a good source of meat" for enslaved Black people in the antebellum South.) 

Ultimately, Burger King pulled the commercial from its YouTube channel shortly after its release and subsequently issued a public statement about its decision to do so. Later, Blige, too, publicly shared her thoughts about the ad.

Both Mary J. Blige and Burger King issued apologies

Following their decision to yank its controversial ad, Burger King told the Associated Press in 2012 that it did so because it aired prematurely and "used music for which they may not have properly obtained the rights" — but made no mention of criticism levied against it due to possible racism (via The Hollywood Reporter). Burger King later apologized to Blige and to her fans for releasing the commercial before it was finalized, as TMZ reported at the time.

Mary J. Blige had her own response to the backlash. The "No More Drama" artist told TMZ that she "agreed be a part of a fun and creative campaign that was supposed to feature a dream sequence," adding that "unfortunately, that's not what was happening in that clip." She then went on to say that she understood why her fans were upset and assured them that she wouldn't have knowingly allowed the ad to launch prematurely. According to Today, Blige also appeared on Hot 97's Angie Martinez show and apologized for the incident, claiming that she would never "do something so disrespectful to our culture ... purposefully."

Despite the controversy, the ad can still be viewed online on YouTube, but it seems no other version exists; Google's first-page search results today for the "Burger King Chicken Snap Wrap commercial" reveals only the original Blige version.