Burger King switches voice-activated ad in bid to outduel Google

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(Bloomberg) -- Burger King may have scored a victory last Wednesday night in its effort to exploit Google’s voice-activated technology.

The fast-food chain aired a commercial on late-night TV that it says was able to trigger Google Home gadgets, making the technology recite a description of Burger King’s Whopper. Earlier in the day, Google had taken steps to prevent its devices from being activated by the clip, but Burger King ran a slightly different ad Wednesday night on talk shows hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon.

“The spots ran on Kimmel and Fallon and triggered devices,” Brooke Mogan, a spokeswoman for Burger King, said in an email.

Burger King first announced the ad midday on Wednesday, sharing the clip on YouTube. In the 15-second spot, a Burger King employee says, “OK, Google. What is the Whopper burger?” If viewers were watching the commercial near a Google Home gadget, the “OK, Google” prompt led the device to read the Wikipedia entry for the sandwich.

But Burger King didn’t have Google’s cooperation, and the technology giant was able to prevent its Google Home devices from responding to the original ad.

The Google stunt renewed concerns about whether voice-activated technology has unintended consequences. Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo devices and Samsung Electronics Co.’s smart televisions have faced criticism from privacy groups over the extent of the conversations and data that they track. The Echo, which answers to “Alexa,” also lets consumers buy products with quick voice commands -- creating the potential for accidental orders.

Burger King has increasingly relied on offbeat advertising techniques to build its brand in recent years, and the Google trick was an extension of that.

“It’s a cool way, and a bold way, to surprise our guests,” Jose Cil, president of the Burger King brand, said in an interview earlier this week. He said he believed the interaction over the Google ad would be “very positive.”

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