Opinion: Burger King’s ‘Real Meal’ Campaign is a Real Mess When It Comes to Promoting Mental Health Awareness

Fast-food giant, Burger King (BK) wants to look like it cares about people. Burger King announced the alignment of its marketing campaign with Mental Health Awareness Month for the month of May.

On Thursday, BK announced the launch of various combo meals, dubbed “Real Meals,” that are supposed to be the antithesis of McDonald’s Happy Meal. The Real Meal “moods” are named after distinctive emotions: the “Pissed Meal,” “Salty Meal,” “YAAAS Meal,” “DGAF Meal” and “Blue Meal.”

The combo meals  — which include a Whopper, french fries, and drink — are available at select Burger Kings in Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Seattle while supplies last.

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On Wednesday, the company released a video promoting the Real Meals. In the almost 2-minute video, various people shared their struggles, anger, frustrations, and sadness.

“Not everybody wakes up happy. Sometimes you feel sad, scared, crappy,” one person in the video says.

The people in the commercial then break out singing “All I ask is that you let me feel my way” which is reminiscent of Burger King’s “Have It Your Way” mantra.

The words from the video were correct — not everybody wakes up happy. And as a person who struggles with mental health issues, I can whole-heartedly tell you that people who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue don’t want a sugar-filled, sodium-laced garbage cocktail in a box to make us feel better. There are a few things the company could have done to make this an effective campaign.

Considering this is a partnership with Mental Health America (MHA), which touts itself as a “community-based non-profit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness,” it’s a complete disappointment to see that MHA didn’t require Burger King to provide better meals for their mad-faced boxes.

Instead, we get statements from Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America, saying nonsense like this:

“MHA is very pleased to partner with Burger King. While not everyone would think about pairing fast food and mental health, MHA believes in elevating the conversation in all communities in order to address mental illness (in a preventative way).”

In fact, fast food should be the last thing paired with people who have mental health issues. And Burger King and the Mental Health America should have disclosed that their “Real Meals” contribute to depression as high junk food diets have been known to do.

Not only should Mental Health America have demanded that Burger King been honest with the public but they should have required BK to change their crappy meals to foods that help people have access to more nutritious meals. But money talks.

What’s also ironic and equally disturbing is that fast food chains like Burger King purposely targeted low-income neighborhoods and were even assisted by the government to the detriment of people who don’t have access to grocery stores with healthy food choices. It’s a fact that people who live in food deserts will more than likely be the customers who purchase these “Real Meals.”

About 23.5 million people live in food deserts. People living in the poorest SES (social-economic status) areas have 2.5 times the exposure to fast-food restaurants as those living in the wealthiest areas, according to a study by Yeh, Ming-Chen and David L. Katz. In essence, poverty contributes to mental health issues.

One in four Americans will have mental health issues but Black Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience mental health issues and social stigma because of a number of factors.

In conclusion, Burger King and Mental Health America could have tackled food deserts, addressed BK’s lack of accountability to poverty-stricken families for providing food that isn’t healthy and given a real solution for bringing mental health to the forefront while taking critical steps to improve the lives of people they say they want to help.

It’s time we hold these companies accountable when they use real issues to advertise and earn money from people’s pain and suffering.