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Gourmet Burger Kitchen U-Turn After Offensive Adverts Galvanise Veggie Community

19/01/2016 09:58 GMT | Updated 18/01/2017 10:12 GMT

There's been a feeding frenzy on Twitter. Sadly for Gourmet Burger Kitchen, its food isn't the target - its marketing campaign is.

At the centre of the row is a series of ads, launched last week, featuring slogans like: "You'll remember the time you stopped being vegetarian," the implication being its particular brand of macerated cow on a bun will lead a committed veggie back to eating meat.

Unless the company is working with the mantra 'all publicity is good publicity' this latest campaign seems deeply ill-conceived. With a lack of subtlety not seen since the heyday of Viz magazine, GBK also printed a picture of a cow, with a slogan saying: "They eat grass, so you don't have to." This image provoked much ire among the meat-free community for many reasons, its callousness being just one of them.

What makes this particularly weird is that the restaurant caters for veggies and vegans. Despite some commentators claiming a veggie wouldn't go to places like GBK, many in fact will go to these restaurants, providing they can eat something. This company had previously welcomed the custom, with a variety of meat-free options on the menu.

Additionally, with events like Veganuary fast gathering pace with more than 22,000 people taking part -over a 2,000% increase from 2014's numbers - the timing seemed clumsy. One of GKB's competitors, the Handmade Burger Co, actually teamed up with Veganuary to offer a large discount on its food. This is a far savvier move, relying on inclusivity rather than a rather weak joke.

When the ads went live, a number of vegans, veggies and even omnivores flooded the Advertising Standards Agency with complaints. The twitterati used #GourmetMurderKitchen with abandon and it was soon trending. Others took to the underground to physically change the ads. This activity within a short time frame aptly demonstrates how a passionate and social-media savvy community can be galvanised - and quickly.

After launching the ads on Friday, the brand's Twitter feed had been suspiciously quiet over the weekend, but on Monday morning the social media team posted the following tweets: "We've been reading the reaction to our latest advertising campaign and needless to say, we're quite taken aback.

"The last thing we ever intended to do was offend or alienate vegetarians. The same vegetarians we've looked after since our first GBK.

"Our intentions were light-hearted and not meant to cause any offence, but clearly we have, and for that we apologise. While we've served beef at the core of our menu since 2001, we've always catered well to the veggies out there, & always will.

"So having read all your comments and messages, we've made the decision to take down some of the adverts. We'll still serve beef. We'll still serve veggie burgers. But hopefully we'll not tread on anyone's toes while doing it. Best, GBK."

In removing the ads, the brand is clearly trying to appease the community it previously attacked. While the campaign has certainly garnered attention, it has also provoked a number of people to say they'll boycott the place.

Some have condemned the U-turn as too little too late, and others have now turned on the company for 'giving into the veggie trolls'. Funny is subjective - but the episode further highlights that mocking a minority interest group isn't a clever joke. Not enjoying being the butt of the joke isn't trolling.

Did the restaurant underestimate the power of the veggie community? Robbie Lockie, who launched the #GourmetMurderKitchen campaign, thinks so.

He says: "The campaign was designed to highlight the ignorance of the advertising campaign and to show the company up. My motivation was to really galvanise the vegan community and it worked well - I saw it as an opportunity to bring people together in a shared message of disapproval."