BurgerFuel says it reacted swiftly to snuff out a marketing exercise gone wrong after an employee at a Parnell store dressed up in blackface costume to hand out fliers promoting a Usain Bolt-themed chicken burger.
Members of the public who saw the stunt vented their displeasure on Twitter.
"So not okay" responded one tweeter after photos of the employee were posted.
"That is fxxxxx up," tweeted another.
Once a popular song and dance art form, blackface has been considered socially unacceptable since the American civil rights movement of the 1960s due to its racist overtones.
BurgerFuel Worldwide marketing manager Alexis Lam said the bungled promotion was a case of ignorance rather than racism.
"There was certainly no harm intended," Mr Lam said. "We've had people say this was a matter of casual racism and it's certainly not that. It's just a little bit of ignorance on the part of some younger staff members.
That is about it."
A young marketing employee at the company's head office had okayed the stunt as he wasn't aware of the historical implications of the costume.
"A member at HQ in our marketing team was aware of the local store's activities but, unfortunately at that level, they just weren't aware of the history this sort of costume had back in the 1900s," Mr Lam said. "As soon it was brought to my attention we contacted the store and asked then to change out of costume. We acted very, very quickly."
Staff had been called in and "given a bit of a history lesson", he said.
A competition promoting the burger had encouraged people to take photos of themselves posing as the Jamaican sprinter and post them on Instagram.
"Selfies are old news - the 'Usain Bolt' is where it's at, mon," the promotion states.
However, yesterday's incident was not a publicity stunt, Mr Lam insisted.
"'This wasn't part of a national campaign or drive or anything like that. Unfortunately we are just a little bit better at making burgers that we are at playing dress-up. We know that there is extra onus on us as a company and New Zealand brand to be watching out for these things. We've had a few discussions with the team."
Ads gone bad
• Telecom pulled an advertising campaign asking Kiwis to abstain from sex to show their support of the All Blacks, after just 24 hours. The ads featured Sean Fitzpatrick driving a car shaped like a fist.
• Qantas apologised after posting pictures of two Wallabies fans dressed as Fijian forward Radike Samo on its Twitter page.
• Shoe company Just for Feet sued its ad agency following a disastrous Super Bowl halftime commercial. The ad featured white men in an ATV tracking down a barefoot black man in the bush and forcing him to wear sneakers. It was called "appallingly insensitive ... and probably racist''.