We had high hopes a year ago when Burger King ended its 7-year-or-so relationship with ad agency Crispin Porter. Yes, Crispin’s “unconventional” ad work for the burger chain had generated attention over the years. Some high(low)lights:
As Slate’s Seth Stevenson recounted, “there was the exhumation of BK’s old King character—which, in Crispin’s 2004 update, became embodied by a man wearing a creepy plastic mask. The ginger-bearded King would show up in various contexts, look scary, say nothing, and generally propagate disquietude.”
Stevenson also reminded us of the thoroughly unappetizing Subservient Chicken: “this viral sensation involved a giant chicken in black lingerie, practicing ritual submission in front of a webcam in a seedy room.” Ick.
The “Whopper Sacrifice,” which, as recounted by NYTimes’ ad reporter Stuart Elliot, “incurred the wrath of Facebook by offering Facebook users incentives to ‘de-friend’ their friends on the social-networking web site,” was another gem.
All in all though, it wasn’t the kind of attention BK really needed. In an attempt to appeal to the market segment that the agency believed would fuel massive growth—young male “superfans” who are heavy fast-food eaters—the ads almost uniformly managed to offend or otherwise disengage pretty much every other person in America. As a result, BK’s sales plummeted over the years, so much so that it’s no longer the #2 burger chain in the country—Wendy’s overtook it late last year.
With a new agency installed, however, BK seemed to be headed in a more appetizing direction as of the summer of 2011. The new ads, while not exactly differentiating, at least featured juicy red tomatoes, crisp-looking lettuce, and sizzling burgers without any of the weird campiness that had characterized its previous advertising. True, the new “fresh and healthy” tagline was a tad unbelievable—the featured product was none other than the 820-calorie California Whopper—but at least it wasn’t outright offending anyone.
In the intervening time between last summer and now, BK said it did some research among consumers who reportedly told the chain, “We love the Whopper … but you guys have to catch up in some important product categories specifically salads, smoothies and wraps.’” Subsequently, a new campaign launched earlier this week pushes those exact menu items.
As reported in Ad Age, “Burger King will use a host of expensive celebrities, including Jay Leno, David Beckham and Steven Tyler, to push salads, chicken snack wraps, smoothies, frappes and other menu additions in the hope of climbing out of a prolonged slump.”
“The platforms themselves have been out for quite a while,” senior VP-North America Marketing Alex Macedo told Ad Age, referring to the featured menu offerings, and that’s why BK opted to go with celeb endorsers.
As Macedo explained, “The big challenge is how do you really grab people’s attention? And most of all, how do you get them to taste the product? We chose celebrities to get people’s attention faster and to show the diversity that we have with our brand.”
Though the ads claim that “exciting things are happening at Burger King,” the only sense of any real enthusiasm for anything going on at the restaurant comes from the employees in the commercials reacting to the celebs placing an order. Jay Leno makes a quiet passing comment to, “look at that salad,” as the cashier hands it to him and Mary J. Blige belts out a song in homage to the ingredients in the chicken snack wrap, but Jay’s muted reaction is about as revved up as anyone seems to get about the food now that Mary’s ad has been pulled (at least for the moment) due to a “licensing issue.”
More importantly, these less-than-ringing celebrity endorsements supporting a “we’re all caught up” message, don’t exactly reflect a strong, compelling, motivating positioning. Great to establish BK is at least equal in menu options, but there’s no particular reason offered to go out of the way to BK for a smoothie instead of McDonald’s.
BK still has a ways to go.