Did Burger King panic?
3G Capital, the new owners of Burger King, fired their agency of seven years, Crispin Porter, and much of the Burger King senior marketing management. The brand had pursued a long-term campaign directed at delivering a male-oriented content often with sexual overtones and featured a cartoon character King. The idea was to break through the clutter with novel creative that would resonate with the heavy user of their product, notably the hungry male. It was a classic heavy-user, core-buyer strategy.
The logic to dump the existing creative was in part because it had not prevented a decline in sales which in the last year was over 3% overall and nearly 6% in the US and had gone on for six quarters. At least two reasons were hypothesized. First, strategically, in order to compete with McDonald’s throughout the day, Burger King needed to broaden the audience to include kids, families, women, and older consumers. A focus on the hungry male was limiting. McDonald’s realized decades ago that they needed to move beyond family and kids and a limited menu of relatively unhealthy fare. The campaign “loving it” that has endured for years produced an umbrella to approach a wide audience. A narrow audience target with a focused offering and loyal segment works for In & Out burger. Has it worked for Burger King? Probably not.
Second, the existing creative not only did not appeal to these other segments, it actually repelled them with its crude sexual connotations and sometimes confrontational contexts. Some of the global ads (not done by Crispin-Porter) illustrate. One, from Singapore shows a women poised to engage in oral sex with a burger with the headline “It’ll blow your mind away.” Another, banned in New Zealand, had the King dancing for 2.5 minutes giving the finger to competitors. A US ad once showed a person waking up to find a somewhat creepy King sharing a bed. Edgy advertising and promotion needs to deliver attitude, usage and loyalty as well as buzz. The sales data suggest that the results did not justify stretching the boundaries of taste and acceptance. At Davos some years ago Nike CEO Phil Knight said that as long as Nike’s then controversial messaging resonated with the core Nike customer, it did not matter did not matter what others thought. However Burger King is not Nike.
To dump the existing campaign may well be the right decision. However, it means walking away from a lot of equity and assumes that the sequel will be better. Given the decision was made with the influence of the franchise owners gives pause because they might encourage a campaign based on deals and brand-damaging promotions. Look at the advertising for the auto dealers—always price deals. In my view that would be a long-term mistake.
What will lead to success? It surely will not come entirely from new advertising. It will have to involve improving the offering making it dynamic and competitive with McDonald’s that has moved vigorously into healthier appearing menus and upscale coffees. It will need substance.
With respect to the brand vision and advertising, success often involves returning to the roots. I would find ways to put a contemporary and novel spin on “flame grilled” and “have it your way” perhaps by providing a way to tell a new product story.
Is this a case of the finance guys and the franchise owners both looking at short-term results without a brand perspective? Possibly, but I suspect their instincts are right. The question is whether they will also have the instinct to build the brand effectively in the future and the provide the talent and resources to build great supporting creative. It is not easy.
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