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Burger King didn’t hack Google Home, it hacked the media

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I think that it’s no accident that we’re talking about Burger King’s TV commercial that was designed to trigger Google Home — and not just because it would have been really annoying if it worked, or because it raised some some fairly troubling privacy issues. We’re talking about it because I would like to suggest that was the entire aim of this commercial. The media, not your Google Home, has been hacked by Burger King.

We have no concrete numbers detailing just how many Google Home devices have been sold to date, but in October 2016, Strategy Analytics estimated that the total number of digital home assistant devices shipped by Google and Amazon would reach around 3 million in 2017.

So let us assume for a moment that Google, entering the market a little later than Amazon did with the Echo, has sold 700,000 units to date. That would mean that if each sold device lived in one household, the maximum number of homes in which this commercial would work is 700,000. (That number is likely a little less, given that some households may own more than one Home.) That number also has to assume that everyone who bought a Google Home had set it close enough to the TV and had their TV tuned to one of the channels airing the commercial for the ad to work. That’s a hell of a lot of assumption.

Even taking into account those people who own Android phones running version 6.0 and up, or the owners of watches running Android Wear 2.0, the total potential audience for a targeted advertising campaign for a brand like Burger King is miniscule. It makes absolutely no sense — until you consider the demographics.

I suspect that a significant majority of people who have bought a Google Home device are early adopters. Early adopters tend to be in the younger, 18- to 34-year-old demographic, which is a hugely important target market for advertisers. So it’s easy to see why Burger King would aim for this extremely lucrative market.

But there’s just one big snag: cord cutting. Though the age range of cord cutters is growing, 18- to 34-year-olds still make up the largest segment by far. Targeting the small number of early adopters who own a Google Home, still have cable, and who watch TV commercials seems limitedly niche — unless, of course, that was never Burger King’s aim.

It appears that its aim was to create a commercial that would tap into the target demographic’s concerns for intrusive advertising and invasion of their privacy. In turn, this would grab the attention of digital and traditional media who would write about those issues at length and generate tens of millions of dollars of free advertising and bucket loads of engagement. In that vein, Burger King’s campaign is a stunning success. It even managed to get around Google’s hasty block from letting the ad trigger Google Homes by releasing an alternate version during the prime-time slot it bought.

Of course, this is all conjecture on my part. If the aim of David, the creative agency in Miami that made the Burger King Google Home TV spot, was to create a short, sharp, viral commercial that would generate a digital media storm and the attention of the most valuable demographic advertising, then it deserves every Lion in Cannes. If this was just a happy accident, then the team should head for the nearest casino because clearly they recently hit the mother lode of luck.

Regardless, the one thing I do know is that Burger King did cause quite a stir on Wikipedia. If Burger King gained any success revenues from this ad, maybe it should consider donating a little something as a gesture of good will to the editors at Wikipedia, who undoubtedly had a bit of a nightmare dealing with the edit wars yesterday.

Photography by James Bareham / The Verge