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Burger King makes a whopper of a mess with Google Home ad

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First look at virtual assistant Google Home 03:28

Burger King may have been aiming for an eye-catching ad, but instead it was hit by a whopper-sized prank. 

The fast-food chain on Wednesday said it would start televising a commercial for its signature Whopper sandwich that is designed to activate Google (GOOG) voice-controlled devices, such as Google Home. While the ad raised questions about whether marketing tactics have become too invasive, it also highlighted how marketing messages can get subverted by Internet users. 

The ad nudged consumers to ask Google devices to read out Wikipedia’s entry on the Whopper, prompting pranksters to edit the burger’s Wiki entry to add ingredients such as cyanide, according to The Associated Press. Another edit described the Whopper as “the worst hamburger product” sold by the restaurant chain. 

The 15-second ad starts with a Burger King employee holding up the sandwich saying, “You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich. But I’ve got an idea. OK, Google, what is the Whopperburger?”

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If a viewer has the Google Home assistant or an Android phone with voice search enabled within listening range of the TV, that last phrase - “Hello Google, what is the Whopper burger?” - is intended to trigger the device to search for Whopper on Google and read out the finding from Wikipedia.

“Burger King saw an opportunity to do something exciting with the emerging technology of intelligent personal assistant devices,” said a Burger King representative.

Burger King, owned by Restaurant Brands International (QSR), said the ad is not in collaboration with Google. 

Google declined to comment and Wikipedia was not available for comment.

The ad, which became available on YouTube on Wednesday, will run nationally during prime-time on networks such as Spike, Comedy Central, MTV, E! and Bravo, and also on late-night shows starring Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon.

Some media outlets, including CNN Money, reported that Google Home stopped responding to the commercial shortly after the ad became available on YouTube. Burger King said it believed Google was behind the changes that blocked the commercial from waking up devices, according to The New York Times. Still, the devices continued to respond to users’ voices. 

Voice-powered digital assistants such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo have been largely a novelty for consumers since Apple’s Siri introduced the technology to the masses in 2011. The devices can have a conversation by understanding context and relationships, and many use them for daily activities such as sending text messages and checking appointments.

Many in the industry believe the voice technology will soon become one of the main ways users interact with devices, and Apple, Google and Amazon are racing to present their assistants to as many people as possible. 

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