Burger King's "Real Meals"—Wow, A Lot To Unpack There

Burger King's latest publicity gimmick is, like many a fast food stunt before it, a bit of a swipe at McDonald's. And it's possible to view it as that, and that alone. Real Meals, available starting today at select BK locations in Austin, Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City, can be ordered in one of five possible moods—Pissed Meal, Blue Meal, Salty Meal, YAAAS Meal, and DGAF Meal—because "no one is happy all the time." Get it? Like Happy Meals?


The Real Meals are basically just boxes into which Whopper combo meals are placed, and aren't specifically aimed at kids; no toy or bag of Apple Dippers is involved, and I can't imagine BK marketing something called the DGAF Meal to tiny children. So it's just a gimmick, roughly aimed at McDonald's. Simple.

Yet I must begrudgingly admit that there's more going on there. I once wrote about how an adorable moppet's Taco Bell birthday sent the Takeout staff into a total shame spiral, and while there's a lot less shame in this particular spiral, the effect was a no-less-confused math lady on my tired brain. Let's unpack this.

One one hand, this is dumb. Right? The Popeye's Emotional Support Chicken gag was also just a cardboard box designed to hold regular Popeye's food, but at least that one 1) was specific to airports, not a handful of large cities, 2) had the advantage of providing a handle, which can be useful when you're waiting to board an airplane and juggling all kinds of things, 3) was pretty funny and kind of cute, if we're honest. These are sort of cute, we suppose, but they're not all that funny.


On the other hand, it's not supposed to be all that funny, because somehow, some way, the Real Meal idea is also surprisingly thoughtful? Burger King specifically timed this campaign to May, because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the company partnered with Mental Health America to bring it to life—an organization that's "the nation's leading community-based non-profit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans," per a press release.

The idea that they're digging into here is the one that's also a jab at McDonald's: "No one is happy all the time." That is a true fact. There's this pressure to be "happy," when what we often mean by happy is "attractive and successful and together and definitely not eating a Kit Kat for breakfast while stress-sweating about how behind I am because I was sick all weekend and all I want to do is play video games and watch the Blazers win a playoff game but we can't always get what we want, what's wrong with me, why can't I get my hair to look like normal-person hair, never mind I am doing great, guys."

So anything that tells people, and young people specifically, that it's okay to feel many kinds of ways, to be a mess sometimes, is a very good thing.


On the weird third hand, isn't this just commercializing emotional vulnerability? Brands Are Not Your Friends™, so how good should I feel about BK telling me it's okay to be furious or depressed or whatever else? Aren't they just using my mess to sell fries?

And on the totally normal fourth hand, if they are using my mess to sell fries, then why make it a jab at McDonald's? The video above—shot, as a press release emphasized, on 35mm, so this BK commercial and Alex Ross Perry's bracing Her Smell have something in common—makes the argument that you should "feel your way," drawing a line between emotional health and the old slogan "have it your way." And if that's the argument, then why make it a jab at McDonald's? There are just too many pieces here.

On a record fifth hand, I guess it made me ask a bunch of questions of myself and the world and Happy Meals and the importance of shooting commercials on film and who the DP of that commercial was, so perhaps it did its job.

Anyway, Burger King wants to sell you Whoppers in a novelty box. Happy Wednesday.