On his June 10th radio program, CNN personality Lou Dobbs lavished praise on Mirabile Investment Corporation (MIC) , a Memphis-based Burger King franchisee, for having the guts to ignore and disparage its licensing agreement with the Burger King Corporation (BKC) and the business acumen to post the words “GLOBAL WARMING IS BALONEY” on exterior signs across West Tennessee and parts of Mississippi and Arkansas.
Dobbs also admired the wit of MIC's marketing president, J.J. McNelis, who has publicly compared executives at his parent company to cockroaches who run from the light. Dobbs, a self-described moderate with nativist, “traditionalist” tendencies, regularly mocks environmental concerns and has previously linked global warming to something he called “solar sunspot activity cycles.”
The story McNelis told Dobbs differed substantially from what MIC's rep originally told Leo Hickman, a reporter for UK newspaper The Guardian.
A week ago McNelis said he didn't know who was responsible for the message and even that it may have just spread like a blaze of environmental skepticism from BK to BK. “Sometimes it's like a wild fire in the west — things spread around and all kinds of stuff goes on. But it certainly got some folks' attention,” he told Hickman. But now McNelis claims this was all part of a plan devised by MIC's management team to begin a sociopolitical conversation and “raise awareness” among fast food consumers across the Mid-South. He justified the decision to flout licensing agreements preventing franchisees from advertising political and religious messages by expressing his own displeasure with (admittedly horrible) national branding campaigns.
McNelis also told Dobbs that MIC had removed the signs before they'd been contacted by anybody at BKC although a Burger King spokesperson told the Flyer that the company had been contacted and two signs had been removed although several signs in the Memphis area still carried the message.
Ending his interview with a false equivalence, McNelis told talk radio listeners he couldn't promise that there wouldn't be more controversial messages like “Welcome home troops.” Dobbs said that sign message could be his birthday present. It was sweet.
When asked for comment, Susan Robison, BKC's Vice President of Corporate Communications, offered a canned answer: “As I stated before, the view expressed by the franchisee on this issue does not reflect Burger King Corp.'s opinion or view. The restaurants where these signs appeared were not authorized to display this statement. BKC has guidelines for signage used by franchisees. These guidelines state that only approved marketing messages appear on reader boards and on in-store signage. In this case, unfortunately, those guidelines were not followed. We have asked the franchisee to remove the signage and to our knowledge they have been removed.”
Yes, the signs have been changed in Memphis, but they live forever on the web, and this story doesn't seem to be going away. It's been picked up by CNN, MSNBC, and countless news and opinion sites across the web. Google the words “Global Warming” and Burger. Google “Burger King” and “Cockroaches.” Or simply “Baloney.”
If MIC's goal was to “raise awareness” with their pithy little slogan, they've been extremely successful.
The Guardian has a full transcript of the Dobbs interview.