Taste-testing Burger King's Iron Man 2-themed Whiplash Whopper.

What to eat. What not to eat.
June 1 2010 3:37 PM

The Whiplash Whopper

Taste-testing Burger King's Iron Man 2-themed sandwich.

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That said, the first sandwich was over-sauced to the point that it lingered in my mouth, like regret, long after the meal was over. The second Whiplash Whopper, which I ate one week later, boasted much more competent mayo work, but it was topped with American cheese instead of pepper jack and had been drowned in ketchup. There was a paucity of peppers on the first burger and a surplus on the second. Obviously, the BK kitchen staff was confused about the proper construction of this burger.

A marketing venture like this would seem to have two main goals: to get Burger King patrons excited to see Iron Man 2, and to get Iron Man 2 fans into a Burger King. In my view, the promotion fails on both counts. I had the Whiplash Whopper both before and after I saw the movie, and at neither point was I geared up to watch Iron Man 2 or to wear electrified whips and menace the good citizens of Monaco. Conversely, Iron Man 2 didn't instill in me any great desire to eat an Iron Man-themed sandwich. This is mostly because it was a terrible movie featuring a minor Marvel character of little real interest to anyone except comic-book fans. I have no residual childhood nostalgia for Iron Man, and the movie wasn't good enough to make me want to see how it tasted in burger form. An Indiana Jones Whopper makes some sort of sense, because Jones is a truly beloved character from a classic movie series that remains tremendously popular almost 30 years after it first screened. Thirty years from now, nobody will be watching Iron Man 2, except perhaps in the course of aversion therapy.

Of course, the marketers also simply want to raise awareness of both brands, under the assumption that just hearing the names Iron Man 2 and Burger King could subliminally influence consumers to patronize one or the other. Divorced from its accompanying promotional material, however, the phrase "Whiplash Whopper" means nothing. As I mentioned, no one ever calls the villain "Whiplash," and Iron Man 2, while an unpleasant experience, has nothing to do with neck injuries (although there is a long sequence where Robert Downey Jr. enters a Grand Prix auto race). The sandwich could have just as easily been called the Caliente Burger, set to premiere on Cinco de Mayo, or the Summer Whopper ("The weather's heating up … and so is the Whopper!") or something like that. It's a forced and unnatural association, and one that seems unlikely to stick.

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Perhaps the concept would work better if the movie had more to do with food. For something like Big Night, with its long and orgiastic dinner scenes, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where candy mushrooms grow on the banks of a chocolate river, a food tie-in might directly remind consumers of the movie. Iron Man 2 features few dining scenes and no burgers at all. The characters eat donuts, and strawberries, and omelettes, and organic Italian ice cream, and they drink a surprising amount of Dr. Pepper. Mickey Rourke is often shown chewing a toothpick. The only character who looks like he's ever eaten a Whopper is an overweight manservant played by Jon Favreau—and he gets beaten up by a girl.

The promotion just wound down, and Burger King executives will soon be able to gauge its success. Obviously, the sales numbers will be important, but Blair Chancey of the industry magazine QSRsuggests that the Burger King people will also pay close attention to how the burger was received on social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and on sites such as YouTube. The best Whiplash Whopper-themed YouTube video I found was a grainy, 17-second clip of a mush-mouthed youth pretending that the burger actually gave him whiplash, which as of Tuesday afternoon had been viewed exactly 154 times. Perhaps not the social-media triumph that BK may have been expecting. But, hey, I still liked it better than Iron Man 2.

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Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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