Burger King's big idea: Have it your way, again

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Burger King will play its opening gambit in the quest for sales redemption next week, with a debut ad campaign from hotshop Crispin Porter & Bogusky-and the surprise is it plans to bring back the 30-year-old theme, "Have it your way."

The struggling No. 2 burger chain has tended to move under a number of strategic banners and every so often it's gone back to "Have it your way," said one executive close to the marketer. "[Crispin] made a persuasive argument that they could still pay off that equity somehow and make it relevant to today's consumer."

It's the idea that won Crispin the account, and it's based on the growing trend of product and service customization. But the chain has used the tagline-first developed by its second agency, BBDO, in 1974-as a crutch before when new marketing ideas weren't working.

The Miami-based MDC Corp. boutique last month suddenly replaced WPP Group's Y&R, New York as Burger King's agency. CEO Brad Blum originally tried to leverage a flame-grilling message from Y&R to position the brand around health, with the tagline, "the fire's ready." One executive with knowledge of the plan said that tagline may still continue in some way. The health message, however, failed to stem sales declines.

Same-store sales nationwide were down in the "high single digits," according to franchisees. Other executives said some restaurants are showing declines as high as 20% and the trend appears to be accelerating, while McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International are enjoying robust same-store sales gains. Last week, Burger King's President Bob Nilsen resigned abruptly and Mr. Blum said he plans to announce some operational changes.

Sense of urgency

"Brad Blum has about three months to reverse the trend," said a third executive, who emphasized the sense of urgency in Miami.

The first of nearly a half dozen spots could break as early as Feb. 19, although the second executive said that date was tentative. Crispin is also expected to roll out an in-store effort as part of the campaign that includes everything from in-restaurant signs to messages on cups. This executive said the best hint at what the non-advertising elements would be in how Crispin handled BMW's Mini Cooper showrooms as being like the in-restaurant experience for Burger King. The executive noted that the "whole package" is what makes this effort "very Crispin."

One person who observed the Feb. 7 shoot in Los Angeles described the spots as a spoof of the BBC's comedy, "The Office."

The third executive close to the marketer worried such a parody would likely be lost on viewers since the show is in limited distribution. A fourth executive involved in the planning noted, "It's not really all that earth-shattering. It's really very retail-oriented."

A Crispin spokeswoman referred calls to Burger King, which did not return calls about the campaign.

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