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Burger King Resurrects Subservient Chicken

Submissive Mascot Returns to Promote New Chicken Sandwich

By Published on . 1

Sunday's newspaper ad for the new Subservient Chicken campaign.
Sunday's newspaper ad for the new Subservient Chicken campaign.

You can once again have it your way with an eager-to-please mascot -- but first he needs to be found.

Subservient Chicken, arguably one of Burger King's most popular campaigns in the last decade, is making a comeback on its 10th anniversary. But the chain is bringing a twist to the marketing: in this campaign, the submissive bird has gone missing.

Burger King posted an image of the chicken on Twitter last Thursday for the popular Throw Back Thursday hashtag, writing "We miss you, Subservient Chicken."

On Sunday it took out half-page ads in the vein of a missing persons bulletin, asking whether readers have seen the chicken. The ads appeared in the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and others.

The chain has also revived the SubservientChicken.com website, although instead of a man-sized chicken ready to take orders, visitor there find an empty room with a couch and a message -- in the style of a vintage Windows-style pop-up circa 2004: "Help, There's a chicken on the loose and we are desperately trying to find him." The site also includes photos of the mascot's last known whereabouts, illustrated surveillance-style via security stills from convenience stores and parking garages. Consumers are asked to help find the chicken on digital and social media channels and to use the twitter hashtag #FindTheChicken.

Next Burger King plans to post a short movie on the site Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET, chronicling the rise and fall of internet celebrities, showing what happens to them when their 15 minutes of fame fades. The digital video, titled "TBD," also features a cameo by actor Dustin Diamond, better known as the dorky Screech from "Saved by the Bell." A range of creative executions are expected to follow.

The chain is hoping it can recreate the viral success the campaign did 10 years ago. The original campaign was immensely popular, racking up over 1 billion online views. Subservient Chicken was a play on the chain's "Have it your way" motto -- a man dressed up in a chicken suit would respond to hundreds of commands from website visitors.

The campaign's revival is tied to the Chicken Big King, a product the chain started selling this month. (The earlier effort was tied to the TenderCrisp chicken sandwich.) Agencies that worked on the new campaign include Code & Theory, Horizon and Ogilvy offshoot David.

"It's the 10 year anniversary and we want to celebrate our new Chicken Big King sandwich, truly in epic fashion," said Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King Corporation chief marketing officer, North America. "This sandwich is a big deal so it felt fitting to partner with the Subservient Chicken who is a pop culture icon."

Subservient Chicken was originally created by MDC's CP&B (then called Crispin Porter & Bogusky) and the Barbarian Group. Crispin was chain's lead agency for seven years and frequently created outlandish, bizarre campaigns that seemed to be aimed at 20-something stoners. Burger King's CMO at the time was Russ Klein, who greenlighted a number of off-the-wall campaigns by CP&B, including Whopper Freakout, Whopper Virgins and even a fictional metal band named Coq Roq that wore chicken outfits and sang about BK's chicken fries.

Burger King's conscious decision to focus on young men wound up alienating the broader market and eventually hurt the chain. After a period of struggle, it has been trying to strengthen sales by marketing to a broader audience.

The first Subservient Chicken campaign also included TV spots, but this time it's primarily a digital and social-media effort accompanying more garden-variety commercials for the Chicken Big King -- apparently a bid to simultaneously court millennials online and general market through TV. The company did not respond to questions about the decision to keep Subservient Chicken online this time around.

Burger King on Friday posted its first quarter earnings, with flat U.S. sales. Global comparable sales were up 2.0%, and sales in the U.S. and Canada were up 0.2%. Executives for the chain during an earnings call said that the move to roll out fewer but "more impactful" products in the U.S., including the Chicken Big King, has paid off for the company, despite a challenging winter thanks to severe weather.

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