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Killing BK's King? That's a Concept We Can Get Behind

Crispin's Anti-Iconography Has a Certain Ironic Appeal, but It Won't Make You Hungry for a BLT

By Published on . 28

Not saying we especially liked Speedy Alka-Seltzer. He was a little shrill and hyperactive. But it was nothing some prescription steroids and Ritalin couldn't have handled.

Tony the Tiger? A harmless blowhard. Yeah, he's a bit over the top. But clearly he really believes in Frosted Flakes. You don't get the feeling he's just pocketing the money to shill for them. He really thinks they're g-rrr-eat! Likewise, the Pillsbury Doughboy. He reminds us of our college roommate. He's happiest when he's, like, totally baked.

Ah. Career satisfaction among ad characters. How we miss that.

Once upon a time, to get on a cereal box or TV spot, you needed at a minimum to be cheerful about it. Whether you were a "silly rabbit" or ruthless bandito or Sugar Bear or giant Michelin maggot, you had to go to work with a smile on your face. You had to be, in a word, animated.

But that, evidently, is just too 20th century. Now we are deep into postmodernity, sketching ironic distance nearly to the vanishing point. Now, if you are Burger King and wish to make your eponymous mythical monarch into an icon, you must simultaneously ridicule the very idea of it. You must say to your audience, "Hey, we know a King character is lame, so we're making him a total freak. Cool, huh?"

Maybe. Krusty the Clown, for instance, is hilariously embittered and mean. And in the realm of postmodern ad characters, long before the King materialized in his new form, there was Jack in the Box's Jack. The creation of (basically) in-house ad czar Dick Sittig, Jack has appeared in hundreds of spots as the company's brilliant but demanding founder and CEO. He's the typical erratic big boss, except he has a plastic foam head just like the little jack-in-the-box car-antenna ornaments they used to give away. He smiles, but only by virtue of a permanent semicircle appliqu�.

Likewise the King's, which is not only unanimated but frozen in place, a grotesque death mask of a grin, like something out of a John Carpenter movie. You don't know whether you're going to have it your way or he's going to have his way with you.

Hungry yet?

That's the thing with the King. He does appeal, on a certain ironic level, to the Snopes generation, a demographic just sooooooo hip to advertising's tropes that you can flatter them, like Penn & Teller, by acknowledging that it's all a trick. (They're not so hip, however, to quite grasp that this gimmick is just advertising disguised as anti-advertising.)

The downside is that he's so creepy he makes your gonads shrink, which we suspect does not stimulate Whopper appetite across the board.

All of which is to say, in Crispin Porter & Bogusky's latest crop of BK ads, all hinging on a conspiracy of soccer moms to murder the King, we understand the impulse. They want him dead because he makes a BLT better than they do, threatening their mom-ness -- a premise that hangs on equal parts Crispin transgressiveness (think Haggar's feces-handshake spot) and "Desperate Housewives" familiarity.

Also, the sandwich, as photographed, is as grotesque a mockery of anything Mom-made as the King is a mockery of ad royalty.

The whole exercise comes off as a bit "Desperate Creatives," the last refuge of smartasses amusing themselves on the client's dime -- in other words, like court jesters, making a fool of the king under the pretext of entertaining him.

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