How to Eat Your Friendships

The meaning of the word “friend” has, due to platforms like Facebook, evolved over the past few years. People who we’ve known for years and people who we’ve met only a few times often become our “friends,” as if they’re one in the same. As a result of these often loose affiliations, and exacerbated by the current heated political environment, it’s become similarly popular to “de-friend” an acquaintance who is annoying or who subscribes to a different worldview.

But in 2009, “de-friending” was a lot more rare. Or, perhaps, medium-rare. Just ask Burger King.


The image above is an ad for a service of Burger King’s called the “Whopper Sacrifice.” The advertisement instructs hungry fans to install a Facebook app — remember when Facebook apps were incredibly popular? — in an effort to get a free burger. But it took more than just installing the app to get the meal. Burger King asked fans to consider their relationships — “now is the time to put your fair-weather web friendships to the test,” stated the ad — and consider turning those friendships into meat. If you, the hungry Facebooker, wanted a free sandwich, it was as easy as de-friending ten of those cyber-pseudo friends. And it wasn’t enough to just quietly remove these bonds of affiliation: as the SocialTimes reported, “while normal friend removals happen without a notification being sent to the deleted friend, the Whopper Sacrifice sends deleted friends a note letting them know they’ve ‘been sacrificed for a Whopper’ before they are indeed actually removed from users’ Facebook friend list.” If you sacrificed a friend on the altar of hamburger, they were going to find out.

But not everyone was amused. Facebook itself objected to this use of its platform, particularly in the notice given to the sacrificed ex-friend. A spokesperson for the social networking giant told the New York Times that “the company [Facebook] was concerned the de-friending notification would disrupt users’ privacy expectations.” Burger King, seeing the notification setting as a core part of the viral marketing strategy, declined to update the app.

So Facebook made the ultimate sacrifice — it shut down the app. But before it could do so, many friendships came to a flame-broiled end. The app claimed nearly a quarter-million such relationships — each one, apparently, worth about a tenth of a Whopper (or about $0.35 at the time).

Bonus fact: In 2008, actor Robert Downey Jr. told a British publication (via the New York Daily News) that he credited Burger King for helping him kick his heroin habit. Downey recounted the time in 2003 when, driving around with a lot of drugs in his car, he stopped off a BK for a meal — with less than acceptable result: “It was such a disgusting burger I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, and I thought something really bad was going to happen.” He tossed the drugs into the ocean and decided to take a new approach to life.

From the Archives: Where the King Dare Not Go: Why Burger King can’t open a franchise in parts of Illinois.

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Related: A Burger King-themed Barbie playset, enough fun for you and a friend (if you haven’t de-friended them). It’s a colletor’s item at this point and runs $200, or about 50 Whoppers.