Burger King Corp.
SUBSERVIENT CHICKEN CAMPAIGN
WHEN YOU HAVE IT YOUR WAY, IT JUST TASTES BETTER CAMPAIGN
5505 Blue Lagoon Drive
Miami, Florida 33126
Telephone: (305) 378-3000
Fax: (305) 378-7262
Web site: www.burgerking.com
Because of what appeared to be a revolving door in its executive suite, as well as a steady drop in customer traffic, which was blamed on inconsistent food quality and poor customer service, Burger King was in search of a way to reestablish its brand identity and to rebuild sales. According to Advertising Age, in January 2004 Burger King had at the helm its nineteenth chief executive in its 50-year history, and at the same time the fast-food chain was struggling with a 22 percent decline in customer traffic that had begun in the late 1990s. Adding to the company's problems was a lack of consistency in its advertising. As Advertising Age noted, "Advertising has often been the scapegoat for sliding sales, with fours shops getting axed in the past four years."
Although Kevin Keller, a marketing professor at Dartmouth College, told Advertising Age that Burger King had "a brand problem, not an advertising problem," the company joined with the Miami-based advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky to help implement a turnaround. The agency reintroduced "Have it your way," a popular tagline from the 1970s, and in February 2004 launched a marketing campaign, "Lunch Break," designed to appeal to its target audience, 18- to 34-year-olds who ate fast food and many of whom worked in offices. A series of television spots, which resembled an abbreviated sitcom, featured a cast of office workers ordering lunch from Burger King.
Burger King's return to the "Have it your way" tagline and the new "Lunch Break" campaign seemed to achieve the company's goals of reconnecting with its target audience and rebuilding sales. According to Burger King, for 10 consecutive months following the launch of the campaign, sales increased. Same-store sales in November 2004 were up 8.6 percent in franchised restaurants and up 14.2 percent in company-owned restaurants. The campaign was also recognized with awards at the 2004 Cannes Lions and the Clios.
Since opening its first restaurant in 1954, Burger King had grown to more than 11,200 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states and in 60 other countries, and it reported system-wide sales of $11.1 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003. The company aired its first television spot, "Home of the Whopper," in 1958, and its first major advertising campaign, "The Bigger the Burger the Better the Burger," was launched in 1968. Other campaigns followed, including the company's best-known and most successful, "Have It Your Way," which was introduced in 1974.
Despite the success of "Have It Your Way," the campaign was scrapped and replaced by what USAToday described as "forgettable themes," including "Best Darn Burger" in 1978, "Burger King Town" in 1986, and "The Whopper Says" in 2001. Burger King seemed constantly to be changing its ad campaigns, but the new themes failed to resonate with consumers. As Burger King's customer traffic continued to slip, it appeared that the number-three fast-food chain, Wendy's, was ready to push Burger King from its second-place position and to settle in behind the number-one chain, McDonald's. In an effort to draw its customers back and to rebuild sales, Burger King took action in 2004 by reintroducing the "Have it your way" tagline in the "Lunch Break" campaign.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky's Steve Sapka said that the "Lunch Break" campaign targeted "burger-craving Gen X and Gen Yers who demanded personalization and customization in every aspect of daily life. With much of that audience spending day after day at the office, BK knew that the relationships reflected in the 'Lunch Break' campaign would resonate well and get the brand message and product attributes out in an entertaining and relevant way."
Reintroducing the "Have it your way" tagline also appealed to another market, baby boomers who were looking for products and symbols reminiscent of their childhoods. In a discussion of the retro trend in culture and of its influence on the ways in which companies were marketing their products, Schuyler Brown, managing director of trends for Euro RSCG, told USA Today, "We're all nostalgic for the loss of our childhood. Kids are getting too old too fast. Adults are trying to hold on to their youth."
Although an Ad Track survey by USA Today reported that "consumers overall have mixed feelings about the return to 'Have it your way' … the ads score highest in likability and effectiveness with 18- to 24-year-olds." Russ Klein, the chief marketing officer of Burger King, told USA Today that it was all right that the survey results were skewed toward the young: "Our core group is 18 to 34 years old. We understand it's more important to be provocative than pleasant with this group."
During an early ad campaign Burger King had referred to itself as "America's Burger King," but over the years it remained firmly entrenched in second place behind the fast-food giant McDonald's and just ahead of the number-three chain, Wendy's. As the Evansville Courier & Press noted, "McDonald's and Burger King have been going burger-to-burger for more than 30 years, with Wendy's and smaller companies also fighting for consumers' hearts and appetites … A price war between the two that stepped up in 2002 weakened profits and produced only mixed results, with Wendy's steering clear and picking up steady gains."
To try to bounce back from weakened profits, McDonald's, according to USA Today, had reinvented itself "as a place for the young and hip—not just for the Happy Meal set." In 2003 McDonald's introduced a new theme, "I'm Lovin' It," and planned its first global ad campaign to coincide with the new marketing approach. Jurgen Krauss, the CEO of Heye & Partner, the agency based in Munich, Germany, that had created the new theme, said that his "plan is to make McDonald's 'a lifestyle' not just a place to eat." USA Today reported that "McDonald's has reason to crow" about its marketing strategy, since the chain's same-store sales experienced the biggest increase in four years, with stock shares climbing close to a nine-month high.
While Wendy's sales grew during a Burger King-McDonald's price war in 2002, the death in that year of Dave Thomas, the company's founder and key spokesman, created new problems for the chain. Following Thomas's death, Wendy's struggled but failed to find an effective method to reach consumers, and according to Advertising Age, same-store sales for 2002 dropped in company-owned and franchised restaurants by 2.9 and 1.8 percent, respectively. In 2005, however, Wendy's changed its marketing strategy by "shedding its folksy image and one-size-fits-all message," reported AdAge.com. Wendy's new theme, "Do What Tastes Right," was designed to set the company apart from the competition, reflect the flexibility of its menu, and appeal to three consumer groups: baby boomers, who were Wendy's core customers; young adults; and Generation Zers, that is, the teens who were the customers of the future. Much as Burger King turned back the clock by reintroducing the "Have it your way" tagline, Wendy's returned to its "square hamburger roots." The company also increased its marketing budget, and while it did not introduce a global ad campaign, as McDonald's had, it did venture into Internet advertising. Speaking of the new marketing strategy, Ian Rowden, Wendy's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, told AdAge.com, "We can leverage what we have to different groups. One message at one time broadly targeted for one group doesn't play anymore for Wendy's."
Burger King stated that its advertising campaigns had contributed to the company's success, and to keep that success going Brad Blum, the company's CEO in 2004, said in a January 2004 press release, "We must have groundbreaking, next-level, results-oriented, and innovative advertising that strongly connects with our core consumers." Greg Brenneman, who replaced Blum as CEO in 2005, told Newsweek that the company's core consumers were identified when he reviewed a market study "that showed hard-core fast foodies made up only 18 percent of the population but accounted for 49 percent of business." Brenneman's priority became providing food options that appealed to the target audience of 18- to 34-year-old men "who like football and are 'gray collar' workers, because their jobs aren't a bright spot in their lives." Burger King's Klein told USA Today that the return to "Have it your way," the tagline that had worked well in the past, was long overdue: "When you have an ad campaign that sticky, it's foolish to go against it," he said. Andrew Keller, creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, added, "At a time when self-expression and mass customization are critical elements of culture, the line makes total sense."
In the "Lunch Break" spots a cast of sitcom-style characters known as the "Lunch Break gang" ordered from Burger King, competing to see who could concoct the most unusual Whopper. The competition between the 20-something office staffers heated up with each new commercial. In one spot two coworkers clashed when one "copied" the other's Whopper order, and in another spot a worker claimed the title as "champion" when he ordered his Whopper with "no lettuce, extra ketchup, double bacon, double mayo, and two extra beef patties." Crispin Porter + Bogusky's "Lunch Break" campaign aimed to achieve three goals. It reached the primary target audience of 18- to 34-year-old office workers, it restored Burger King's cultural relevance by bringing back the "Have it your way" tagline, and it reestablished brand identity.
BURGER KING RETURNS TO POP CULTURE TO LAUNCH NEW BURGER
With the success in using popular television shows like The Office and Seinfeld as the theme for its "Lunch Break" marketing campaign, which featured a sitcom-style cast of 20-something office workers ordering lunch from the fast-food restaurant, Burger King turned in 2005 to another pop-culture venue—reality TV—to launch a new product and to support its marketing campaign. For this campaign Burger King partnered with business mogul Donald Trump for the season premiere of his reality TV show, The Apprentice.
According to the company, the challenge for the two teams on Trump's show, called "Street Smarts" and "Book Smarts," was to "name, build, market, and sell a new menu item at Burger King restaurants." At the end of the episode the Street Smarts team had won, with its product—the Angus Steak Burger—available to customers for a limited time at Burger Kings nationwide. Russ Klein, the company's chief marketing officer, said of the project, "At Burger King, our have it your way philosophy puts our customers in charge. It's all about empowerment and getting what you want, when you want it. That's why we couldn't wait to take this burger from the boardroom to the lunchroom."
According to the agency's Sapka, "With little room for personalization in the fast food experience, BK had the opportunity to own customization in the category, which was the campaign's intent." Sapka said that it was because the "Lunch Break" gang's unique sandwich orders were so effective at promoting Burger King and at returning the "Have it your way" mantra to pop culture that they returned at the end of 2004 in ads tied to the SpongeBob SquarePants movie. In 2005 they were back promoting the Angus Steak Burger, the Tendercrisp, and the Big Fish. Brian Gies, Burger King's vice president of marketing impact, told Chain Leader, "As long as it [the "Lunch Break" campaign] stays fresh and relevant, we'll continue to keep it in the mix."
The "Lunch Break" ads were believed to have had a strong influence on the resurgence of sales at Burger King. Gies told Chain Leader that the ads had been "an important contributor to the brand's momentum. The campaign has done great things for brand recall, message recall, and likeability."
WWD recognized two of the "Lunch Break" spots by including them on its list of the 10 most effective new TV commercials launched during the last week of February 2004, and Adweek included the campaign in its list of best spots. Adweek wrote that Burger King's campaign "managed to create characters who, despite their oddball antics (or maybe because of them), feel familiar and almost always funny … The casting and dialogue are superb, and the spots also seem to spark stomach rumbling, so CP+B must be doing something right." "Lunch Break" campaign spots also won the Silver Award at the 2004 Cannes Lions and Bronze Awards at the Clios.
Not every review of the campaign was positive, however. Lewis Lazare, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, called the "Lunch Break" spots "a stylistic mishmash if ever there were one." Lazare wrote that the "story line and underlying message are confusing … And, sadly, the message about getting burgers done your way at Burger King seems to be diminished by all the silent sturm und drang." According to USA Today's weekly poll, Ad Track, only 14 percent of those familiar with the ads liked them "a lot" and thought that they were "very effective," while 30 percent were found to "dislike" the ads.
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By 2004 Burger King's position as the second-largest hamburger company in the world was waning. With a worsening brand image and an unshakable image for poor food quality, the chain was forced to shut down hundreds of stores. Following a flurry of CEO and ad agency turnovers, Burger King awarded Miami-based ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky a $350 million advertising budget to reshape its image. "We weren't a brand that suffered from lack of awareness," Russ Klein, Burger King's chief marketing officer, told Advertising Age, "but we were a brand that suffered from a lack of emotional attachment." Crispin Porter + Bogusky resurrected Burger King's 1974 tagline "Have it your way" for "Subservient Chicken," one of its first campaigns for the firm. The campaign was launched on April 8, 2004, immediately following Burger King's introduction of the Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich.
The campaign began with E-mail messages that directed recipients to SubservientChicken.com. A week later three 30-second spots were aired on network television, followed by a print ad that also directed people to the website. The website, which served as the core of the campaign, featured a person wearing a chicken costume who acted out whatever command was typed into the command bar. More than 400 commands had been filmed by Crispin Porter + Bogusky beforehand to correspond to possible commands. The website had the feel of a webcam, suggesting that the chicken was standing inside an apartment just waiting to act out the visitor's next prompt.
Considered a bold approach when it first appeared, the "Subservient Chicken" campaign collected a number of creative awards, including Best in Show at the One Show Interactive, the Grand Clio, and the Yahoo Big Idea Chair Award. Within the first 24 hours the website had received more than a million hits, with this number soaring to an impressive 385 million hits by April 2005. Visitors spent an average of six minutes interacting with the site. Not only did the "Subservient Chicken" campaign see Burger King's 21-month sales decline stop, but sales actually improved so much that in 2004 Burger King's growth surpassed its principal competitor, McDonald's Corporation.
Founded in 1954, Burger King had grown to include more than 11,000 fast-food restaurants, most privately owned franchises, by 2005. Early on, Burger King allowed franchisees to buy stores, which stimulated rapid expansion. Quality and consistency varied between stores, however, a flaw that had haunted Burger King for decades. From the beginning Burger King also used the "Have it your way" tagline to emphasize its restaurants' ability to prepare food to accommodate customers' tastes, a stab at the fixed menu of McDonald's. With the emergence in the late 1990s of restaurant chains touting healthier food, such as Starbucks Corporation and Jamba Juice Company, competition grew even fiercer among fast-food giants like Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Jack in the Box. To adjust to the emphasis on healthier eating, Burger King introduced low-carbohydrate options, including more salads. Brad Blum, CEO of Burger King in 2002, increased sales by adorning the menu with the Angus Steak Burger and Fire-Grilled Salads.
Burger King continued to fire agencies that created commercials with close-up shots of food, also known in the industry as "playing up the grill," a common technique used in McDonald's advertisements. Young & Rubicam, the agency that preceded Crispin Porter + Bogusky, had introduced Burger King's "Fire's Ready" campaign, but the agency was sacked after only 10 months. "There's a young guy product that basically all of the greatest advertising in the world is built around—that's beer. Here we have the exact same audience [as beer marketers]. Yet, in general, you have some of the worst advertising in the world," Alex Bogusky, a partner at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, told Brandweek. "Since they both have the same target there's no reason the fast food category has to be so lame. It's just gotten that way."
Until Wendy's released its own chicken sandwiches, Burger King's Original Chicken Sandwich had been the market leader in this food item. In response to Wendy's move, Burger King began using higher grade meat and other ingredients to create its new Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich. A month after the sandwich was introduced, in March 2004, Crispin Porter + Bogusky launched the "Subservient Chicken" campaign. It was a time when Burger King was floundering. "It's not like you know you're getting the chance to work on a resurgent brand. You get a chance to work on a damaged brand. When we started on this, business was not too good [for Burger King]," Bogusky told Brandweek. "They were ready to take some risks."
The "Subservient Chicken" campaign targeted 16- to 35-year-old males who were engaged with "online nontraditional" advertising. Crispin Porter + Bogusky hoped that the campaign would deviate from Burger King's traditional strategy, which was simply to mimic McDonald's advertising. Copying the strategy of the market leader, according to Crispin Porter + Bogusky, made Burger King seem to be just a smaller version, which was not something the public wanted. Crispin Porter + Bogusky attempted to make Burger King "popular" with its target market, believing that the popularity of the brand would then spread into other demographics. Jeff Hicks, Crispin Porter + Bogusky's president, told Brandweek, "We talk a lot about the 'cool uncle.' The voice of the brand is that cool uncle who may be closer to your age than your father's. He's the kind of guy who might say, 'Hey, take a year off from college and go travel.' He's got a little more of an adolescent voice than your parents but he's also got a little bit of experience. That's the voice we like for the brand."
Known for creating interactive, viral campaigns, that is, advertising spread by word of mouth, Crispin Porter + Bogusky began by steering away from traditional media. "What struck me was their holistic view," Klein told Advertising Age's Creativity. "They solve brand problems from the ground up. They don't necessarily gravitate to thirty-second TV commercials as a tonic for every marketing problem. They are not only a big believer but also a practitioner of word of mouth marketing—they understand what it takes to generate strong advocacy among the core customer." Neither Burger King nor Crispin Porter + Bogusky wanted a mass-market campaign, choosing instead to use a specific channel for reaching 16- to 35-year-old male Internet users. "If you are going to be targeted," Klein continued, "you have to deliver something that is relevant to that target."
McDonald's, the giant of fast-food firms, was founded in 1948 and by 1962 had served its billionth hamburger. "Billions served" became the company's tagline, and by 2002 McDonald's was spending more than $600 million per year on advertising. By 2002 the company operated more than 30,000 stores, almost triple the number of Burger King's. Each McDonald's restaurant obtained food from an authorized supplier, ensuring that a Big Mac tasted the same in Miami, Florida, for example, as it did in Anchorage, Alaska. McDonald's advertising campaigns traditionally included cross-promotions that involved toys and movies, with Walt Disney Studio Entertainment being one of its longest-running partners. The McDonald's Teenie Beanie Babies giveaway of 1997, for example, proved to be one of the company's biggest successes. By 2005, however, McDonald's was aggressively fighting to retain its breakfast market. Between 1995 and 2005, 36 percent of its breakfast customers had left for retailers like Starbucks, which served higher-priced Arabica coffees. Research showed that coffee, unlike breakfast sandwiches, brought consumers back to the same store every day, and so McDonald's responded by introducing a richer Robusta blend titled "Premium." An aggressive ad campaign followed, with one television spot showing a woman sipping McDonald's Premium coffee and enjoying a McGriddle sandwich while fantasizing, "I fired my boss" and "I married a rock star."
With more than 6,000 stores by 2002, Wendy's had gained the position of the third-largest fast-food chain in the world. Wendy's, which had a substantial menu that included alternatives to hamburgers, presented itself as a higher-quality alternative to McDonald's and Burger King. Dave Thomas, who had founded the company in 1969, often served as its spokesperson, and over the years he appeared in more than 800 commercials. The corporation's best-known ad campaign—"Where's the Beef?" with actress Clara Peller—appeared in 1984, and Wendy's market share immediately jumped 12 percent. When Thomas died in 2002 Wendy's turned to more conventional advertising, however. By 2005 the corporation was suffering losses from the rising price of beef, the emergence of healthier fast-food alternatives, and a hoax by a woman who claimed that she had found a severed finger in her Wendy's chili.
To add a healthier chicken sandwich to its menu Burger King introduced the high-quality Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich on March 19, 2004. It was while planning another spot for Burger King that Jeff Benjamin, Crispin Porter + Bogusky's interactive creative director, came up with the idea of the "Subservient Chicken" campaign. He instructed his crew to film an actor wearing a chicken costume that had been designed by the Stan Winston Studio. The actor was instructed to perform more than 400 short actions. The filming took place inside the apartment of a friend of Benjamin's that was furnished with only a modest lamp and two couches. "Our approach has always been, 'Follow the work,' " Crispin Porter + Bogusky's Jeff Steinhour told Fast Company. "Meaning if ever you're in doubt about a decision, simply ask whether it's going to make the work better."
Benjamin activated the campaign website, SubservientChicken.com, on April 9, 2004. Once a visitor had entered the website, the text "Contacting the chicken" appeared on a black background and with the Burger King logo. Below, in a command bar, visitors were prompted, "Get chicken just the way you like it. Type in your command here." The chicken waited patiently, supposedly before a webcam, for the commands. Included in the chicken's repertoire were commands like "Dance," "Cluck," "Play baseball," and "Get into the Lotus position." If the chicken was asked to perform something inappropriate, impossible, or not on the list, it simply approached the camera and wagged its finger in admonishment. The overall effect was that the chicken seemed to be executing commands live.
CHICKEN GARTER BELT
The bizarre chicken outfit, spoofing other more salacious websites, came complete with a garter belt. The costume was designed by Stan Winston, the same designer involved in movies like Aliens, Terminator, and Jurassic Park.
As the project neared completion, on April 8, Benjamin E-mailed 20 people the website's URL. Without any serious promotion the website had registered more than one million hits by the end of the day. The following week three 30-second spots were aired on late-night network television. The spots featured scenes from the website, for example, the chicken acting out commands before young adults. In another spot a man commanded the chicken to try on different clothing. Only one print ad was released for the campaign. This ad, which featured a cutout of a chicken mask, appeared in an October issue of ESPN's magazine.
"I would describe what we're doing as making BK unique," Bogusky told Brandweek. "Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. Viewers may look at the advertising and say, 'You can't talk that way' or 'That's kind of weird.' It's only weird because there's only been one voice [in the category] with any consistency and that's been McDonald's. So we're all conditioned to say, that's how fast food advertising should look, be and sound."
Despite the low cost of the "Subservient Chicken" campaign, it garnered some of the advertising industry's foremost honors, including a Grand Clio, Best in Show at the One Show Interactive, and the Yahoo Big Idea Chair Award. After being online for only one month, the chicken had performed its millionth request. After one year the site had had approximately 14 million visitors and 396 million hits. Andy Bonaparte, a Burger King ad director, told Adweek that the campaign helped "sell a lot, a lot, a lot of chicken sandwiches." During the campaign Burger King's 21-month sales decline stopped and turned around. Burger King's sales growth was soon outperforming McDonald's. Sales of the Tendercrisp sandwich consistently increased at an average of 9 percent a week until it eventually sold more than the firm's other chicken offering, the Original Chicken Sandwich.
Matt Vescovo, one of the judges responsible for honoring the "Subservient Chicken" campaign with a gold during the Viral Awards show, was effusive in his praise of the campaign. He told Adweek, "To take that idea [that you can have chicken any way you like it] for something that really isn't that exciting—a chicken sand-wich—and to so seamlessly put it into such an innovative use of technology, it just really hit so many sweet spots for me."
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BURGER KING VS. A GIANT
To put the size of McDonald's into perspective, in 2002 it boasted over 30,000 stores, more than those of Wal-Mart, Carrefour SA, and Royal Ahold N.V. combined. McDonald's employed more people than Ford and General Motors. Because McDonald's owned the land beneath its restaurants, it also was the world's largest commercial holder of real estate.
Despite its overall sales success, Burger King in 1998 embarked on what senior vice president of marketing James Watkins called an "aggressive evolution" of its brand. With industry leader McDonald'shaving taken steps to address a series of high-profile marketing missteps by rolling out a new cooking system designed to improve the taste of its products, Burger King responded with a marketing strategy that focused on the superior taste of its food. The chain's three-year-old "Get Your Burger's Worth" slogan was scrapped and replaced with a line that hit McDonald's in its self-acknowledged weak spot. "When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better," boasted the new Burger King television campaign from Ammirati Puris Lintas. "We will stake Burger King's future on taste," said Paul Clayton, president of the company's North American operations.
Since the founding of Burger King in 1954, the Miami-based chain had made food customization, encapsulated by the "Have It Your Way" tag line, a hallmark of its competitive strategy. Burger King restaurants offered traditional fast-food fare in addition to Whopper and BK Broiler sandwiches. The company had grown to become the number two fast-food hamburger chain, with franchisees operating more than 9,800 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states and in 55 countries and territories around the world. Now a subsidiary of London-based Diageo, PLC, one of the world's leading consumer products businesses whose international portfolio of food and drink brands included Guinness, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Haäagen-Dazs, Old El Paso, Progresso, Smirnoff Vodka, Bailey's Original Irish Creme, and J&B Rare Scotch Whisky, Burger King enjoyed systemwide sales of $10.3 billion in fiscal year 1998.
Burger King was founded by James McLamore and David Edgerton, both of whom had had extensive experience in the restaurant business. They founded the new restaurant around the simple concept of providing the customer with reasonably priced quality food that was served quickly in attractive, clean surroundings. Powered by America's postwar fast-food boom, the company grew briskly over the ensuing decade. By 1967, when the company was acquired by the Minneapolis-based Pillsbury Company, 8,000 employees were working in 274 different Burger King locations nationwide.
Burger King's success was predicated on its leadership in such areas as product development, decor, service, and advertising. The Whopper sandwich, introduced in 1957, proved an immediate hit and paved the way for future menu innovations. In the late 1990s the Whopper retained its place as one of the best-known hamburger sandwiches in the world, with more than 1.4 billion being sold annually.
Restaurant decor was a second pillar of Burger King's success. Burger King was the first fast-food chain to introduce dining rooms, allowing customers a chance to eat inside. Drive-through service, designed to satisfy customers on the go, was introduced in 1975 and as of 1999 accounted for approximately 50 percent of Burger King's business. The company developed a tradition of taking great care in the design and construction of its restaurants.
Burger King's advertising campaigns also contributed to the company's success. The company's first television ad ran on Miami's only VHF station in 1958. The year after Burger King became a Pillsbury subsidiary, in 1968, the company's first major promotion, "The Bigger the Burger the Better the Burger," debuted. In 1974 the landmark "Have It Your Way" campaign was created. Other memorable Burger King advertising campaigns included "America Loves Burgers and We're America's Burger King," "Make It Special, Make It Burger King," "Battle of the Burgers," "Burger King Town," "We Do It Like You'd Do It," "Sometimes You've Gotta Break the Rules," and "Your Way, Right Away."
The road to the "When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better" campaign began in late 1993, when Clayton, Burger King's president, and James B. Adamson, its chief executive officer, initiated an agency review. As a result New York-based Ammirati Puris Lintas was tapped to revive the chain's "Have It Your Way" theme. In 1996 Burger King executed the new strategy with ads focused on foods and set to popular music from the 1970s and '80s. The musical spots helped consumers make an emotional connection with Burger King. Two years later "Have It Your Way" returned as an integral part of the burger giant's advertising.
The fast-food sector was one of the most highly developed in the restaurant industry, with the fast-food hamburger category being perhaps the most competitive. There seemed to be McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King outlets on every corner, and consumers were using increasingly sophisticated criteria to decide where and how to spend their money. In this environment gains in market share became critical. One way in which Burger King had traditionally differentiated itself from its competitors and gained market share was by appealing to customers on the issue of customization. The basic idea, embodied in the "Have It Your Way" slogan, was that consumers had individual needs and were best served by products that could be easily customized for them.
There was statistical evidence to indicate that there was a large market for customized products. For example, two-thirds of consumers in a poll done by the consulting firm of Kurt Salmon Associates reported difficulty in finding clothes that fit well. About 36 percent of the respondents said that they were willing to pay 12 to 14 percent more for custom clothes and shoes. It was felt that the same principal applied to other areas, including fast food. This was supported by the fact that in 1998 Burger King enjoyed sales gains when it offered a customized option in side dishes with its value meal items.
"Burger King has been customizing its sandwiches since the company was founded in 1954," said Rob Calderin, vice president of USA Marketing for Burger King, in announcing the program. "Now, we have taken this one step further. In addition to having great tasting food served just the way you like it, customers can have their choice of french fries or onion rings as part of their Value Meals."
After world leader McDonald's Corp., Burger King was the number two hamburger fast-food chain. It had about 20 percent of the U.S. market, compared to 45 percent for McDonald's. In 1997, emboldened by a series of marketing missteps by McDonald's—including the ill-fated Arch Deluxe rollout and an abortive 55-cents pricing scheme—Burger King launched an all-out product war. In rapid succession it introduced a new burger, the Big King, and reformulated its french fries. Both were supported with major ad campaigns. According to figures from Competitive Media Reporting, McDonald's spent $578 million on advertising in 1997, 3.3 percent less than in 1996. At the same time Burger King boosted its ad spending 17.2 percent, to $423 million.
With consumer research consistently citing "better taste" as the basis for Burger King's appeal, McDonald's in 1998 took steps to improve the quality of its food. Costs to develop, install, and market a new high-tech cooking system were projected at $500 million, with franchise owners picking up at least $300 million of the tab. New toasters were designed to heat buns in just 10 seconds through a combination of radiant and convection heat, 14 seconds faster than the existing system. Holding cabinets with special moisture controls were installed to keep cooked beef and chicken patties hot for up to 20 minutes without drying. In addition, computer software was developed to more accurately project, often within seconds, what items would likely be ordered at specific times of the day.
To accompany the new approach, a new marketing slogan, "Made for You," was developed. It had echoes of Burger King's "Have It Your Way" slogan, something that did not go unnoticed at the headquarters of the number two chain. "We've offered 'Have It Your Way' since 1974," scoffed Burger King spokesperson Kim Miller. "What's the big deal?" Nevertheless, the renewed emphasis on food quality represented a sea change for McDonald's, which had long relied on heat lamps to keep precooked burgers warm.
IF YOU REBUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
Burger King's "When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better" may have represented a throwback to the company's past, but in other areas the fast-food giant was striding boldly into the future. At the same time that the chain was revamping its national advertising, it was looking to boost performance by paying more attention to restaurant operations, new-product development, and broader marketing.
In 1998 the chain announced that it was embarking on a three-year initiative to spruce up tired stores. Slated for retirement was the tan-and-brick color scheme used in Burger King restaurants, to be supplanted by cobalt blue. Exteriors were to be made brighter with the addition of yellow and red stripes, while the inside walls would be painted a mustard yellow. Even the time-honored Burger King-in-a-bun logo was to be refurbished with a new style of lettering.
Other new features included an interactive "virtual fun center" designed for use by children, who were among Burger King's most important customer; a space-age drive-through in which patrons could access electronic screens showing them what they had ordered and how much it would cost; and a computer-controlled broiler chamber that could heat more slowly, allowing for thicker patties such as a planned half-pound burger, tentatively called the Great American.
For many Burger King customers the changes were long overdue. Patrons had complained for years about hard-to-read menu boards, crowded eating areas, and tables bolted to the floor. What was their overall impression of the chain? "'Boring' would be the right word," cracked Jacqueline McCook, Burger King's head of strategic planning. "But they love the food." Consumers, McCook added, were sending Burger King a simple message: "If you make it a more pleasant environment, we'd come more often."
Paul Clayton, president of Burger King's North American operations, agreed with this assessment. "The best local-store marketing is a well-run restaurant," he told Advertising Age. "The better the restaurant delivers the brand, the better they will be. If we have a strong national marketing platform and execute it at the local level, it is a combination that can't be beat."
Burger King had made customizing its sandwiches a hallmark of company philosophy since its founding in 1954 but only began fully promoting the "Have It Your Way" option in 1974. The tag line and its accompanying jingle became synonymous with Burger King in the minds of many consumers.
In 1998 Burger King revived the slogan with the rollout of what was called "the ultimate Have It Your Way meal" at its more than 7,600 restaurants in the United States. Beginning on October 19, Burger King customers could choose french fries or onion rings with any value meal at no extra charge. The side-order option was considered a logical extension of the "Have It Your Way" concept.
To emphasize the connection with the past, the burger giant assigned Matthew Berger, son of the original "Have It Your Way" jingle writer, Dennis Berger, to update the lyrics. "Value meals with rings or fries/Still cost the same with one great price," warbled singers in a new set of radio and television commercials. "You don't have to ask us twice to have it your way." To spearhead the new campaign, Burger King continued using popular ads that mixed food shots and classic rock and soul songs, while also adding more spots showing customers enjoying the chain's food.
As the campaign progressed, Burger King developed a series of new big-budget image-building television ads. In one a drill sergeant berated a group of recruits who must do everything the sergeant's way, except when it came to "having it their way" at Burger King. A second spot blended part of a 1973 ad with new footage to create a striking retro effect. A third ad took a more whimsical approach. Two men wearing 1970s leisure suits walked into a Burger King and ordered a Whopper without pickles. Three women emerged from behind the counter and began singing the "Have It Your Way" song. The ad then cut back to 1998, as the same two men, now balding and graying—but still clothed in polyester—ordered onion rings instead of fries and received the identical serenade.
An even more imaginative execution of the "When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better" theme was staged in time for the Fourth of July. On the holiday weekend Burger King for the first time aired brand image television spots directed exclusively to children that stressed the longevity and practical application of its customization process. "Burger King has been customizing burgers since being established in 1954 and we plan to pass that core equity message on to a new generation," said Calderin. "These advertisements send that message. As most parents would agree, kids can be fairly choosy eaters. The children's television spot in particular, lets them know they can have it their way at Burger King."
In addition to the television spot, on July 2 Burger King placed a full-page advertisement in USA Today saluting the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July. The ad playfully reminded readers that America's founding fathers were the first group to "have it their way." "Burger King and Independence Day have a lot in common," remarked Calderin. "We both adhere to the 'Have It Your Way' principle. This nation's founding fathers set the tone a long time ago by having it their way, and we've followed their lead."
Burger King's new commercials reprising the "Have It Your Way" jingle may have scored points for nostalgia, but they did not prove popular with consumers. In a survey conducted by USA Today, only 17 percent of participants said that they liked the commercials "a lot." Of those surveyed, people with a household income of $25,000 to $35,000 a year responded most favorably to the ads. Thirty-three percent of African Americans said that they liked the commercials a lot, compared with 14 percent of whites. Perhaps more encouraging for Burger King was the response of young people, a key target for fast-food companies. Respondents between the ages of 25 and 29 were more enthusiastic than other age groups, with 26 percent of them reporting that they liked the commercials a lot. The commercials did receive higher scores for effectiveness, with 23 percent of respondents rating the commercials as "very effective."
Despite the lukewarm response in the survey, Burger King officials remained satisfied with the "When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better" theme. The company's ad director, Andy Bonaparte, reported that the commercials increased traffic in Burger King restaurants. "Response has been positive so far," he told USA Today. Many corporate image specialists agreed that the retro ads would prove to be a compelling platform for the chain. " 'Have it your way' was the biggest idea Burger King ever had, and it's still very relevant today," claimed Allen Adamson of Landor Associates. "No one else has grabbed that positioning, so they're smart to bring that back."
Gibson, Richard. "Burger King Seeks New Sizzle." Wall Street Journal, April 14, 1999.
Horovitz, Bruce. "Re-inventing McDonald's." USA Today, February 20, 1998.
Wells, Melanie. "Not Their Way: Burger King Spots Lose with Consumers." USA Today, December 21, 1998.