CAN CHICKEN-PORN GAG BOOST BURGER KING SALES?

Restaurant Chain Takes Risk With Odd Web and TV Ad Campaign

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Burger King Corp.'s "chicken porn" is an apparent hit, but will it make the flagging burger giant cool again with young men --
Burger King's 'Subservient Chicken,' which wears garter belts, is a play on an interactive pornography concept. The Web site allows users to enter commands and see the chicken respond.
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or even sell sandwiches?

Within a week of launching a viral campaign for a "subservient chicken" to promote its month-old TenderCrisp fried chicken sandwich, Burger King is claiming more than 46 million hits on its Web site, www.subservientchicken.com.

Bossing around a chicken
Aimed at raising awareness for the chicken sandwich, the campaign features a person dressed in a chicken costume that can be bossed around -- reinforcing the No. 3 burger chain's old-is-new theme, "Have it your way."

"You take something literal and create an abstract version of it, where 'chicken your way' is an analogy of having Burger King prepared anyway you want it," said Alex Bogusky, chief creative officer at Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, which created the effort. "One reason it tends to be very sticky and has a lot of pass-along is that people believe it is not real. Then they type in a command and the chicken does what they ask."

In reality, there are 400 pre-taped clips of the chicken performing moves, which are edited to correspond to viewers' commands, making the site feel as though it works in real time. The agency sent out a picture of the chicken to staffers and asked them to think up every conceivable command they could.

Plays baseball
"The crazy thing is that more than one person said 'play baseball,'" Mr. Bogusky said. He said the agency artificially slowed the speed of the site, "so it mirrors what you might get with a Webcam but it masks all the edits."

Stan Winston Studio, in Van Nuys, Calif., best-known for creating characters for films such as Terminator and Aliens, created the costume and Barbarian Group, Boston, helped shoot the clips. Total production costs for the site came to about $30,000.

Burger King is attempting to pull sales out of the basement using its 20-year-old theme with new and revamped products as its two biggest competitors -- McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International -- enjoy robust sales gains. Until now, none of the chain's efforts have made a difference. The new sandwich is the best-selling new product in years, easily beating the Chicken Whopper sandwich, the one successful product launched under the previous management regime.

"The whole filet fried chicken sandwich opportunity was a clear and glaring absence on our menu," said Russ Klein, Burger King's chief marketing officer. "Frankly, this has been a long overdue addition to our menu." Next week, the chain will roll out a spicy version of the sandwich.

Reminiscent of porn sites
The setting for the subservient chicken is an ordinary-looking apartment, shot in a grainy style reminiscent of Webcams for voyeur and porn Web sites. The chicken, dressed in nothing but a garter belt, awaits commands, which users can type in a field under the chicken. For instance, type in "peck" and the chicken pecks. Or type in "do the macarena," and the chicken obliges. When a viewer types in more salacious commands or the name of a competing chain, the chicken approaches the camera and shakes a finger as if to admonish the viewer.

The site went live April 7 and has already made the rounds among Web-savvy surfers and bloggers, who have shared tips on what commands the chicken would or wouldn't perform. By the weekend, when the first of three TV ads featuring the chicken dutifully taking orders from a hipster broke on late-night male-oriented cable programming, the obedient chicken had responded to more than a million commands. As of last evening, 46 million commands have been logged, according to Crispin Porter.

Mr. Bogusky said he's still learning all of the key words, but he said if viewers type in "Bogusky," the chicken will make a hang loose sign. (It does.)

While the site has yet to register enough traffic to meet the minimum reporting standards for traditional Internet tracking services, which typically measure unique visitors, Subservient Chicken's popularity has exceeded virtually everyone's expectations.

Lacking a tie-in
"One I think they have achieved is creating a site that's funny and entertaining," said Ralph F. Wilson, founder and director of Wilson Internet Services. "What doesn't work is there's no real big tie-in to Burger King. This hasn't become a branding mechanism that ties to the brand strongly, which I think is a mistake. If I were doing something like this, I would also be doing coupons to get the to try the product."

"I think its really, really funny and it has the opportunity to be sent around quite a bit and it doesn't scream Burger King, so people won't think its not underground enough," countered B. Bonin Bough, vice president and director of strategy and architecture at Ruder Finn Interactive.

Two things increase the power of a viral campaign, according to Mr. Bough -- giving the viewer a sense that it's not controlled and the opportunity to have an immediate shared experience, which he said will shorten the site's shelf life.

"I don't think it will get forwarded after its shelf life has run out," said Mr. Bough. "Everybody will have seen it." Mr. Bough added that because the connection to Burger King wasn't strongly made, when viewer's do catch on that the site is backed by a fast-food chain, it will have an effect on the brand.

"But in order for them to have a lasting effect, they have to do more than this," he said.

'Perishable marketing'
"Perishable marketing initiatives are what we feel are necessary to be topical and to be fresh," Burger King's Mr. Klein said. When the time comes, he said the company would assess whether they should restage the site or take it down. He readily admits the effort is historically the most edgy work for the brand.

Mr. Bogusky said the effort is about "relevance, so when things happen at BK, the brand's identified as part of the pop culture [world] of 18 to 35 year olds."

Building that relevance on TV is extremely difficult, Mr. Bogusky said, because consumers "are a little bit immune to the imagery of the food because they don't really believe that's exactly what they're going to get." By using traditional advertising, "70% of it benefits the category leader, which is McDonald's. Our hope would be to do stuff that is not like the category."

That's part of the reason why the agency created the "Lunch break" campaign, which has been compared to the cult BBC series The Office.

Because the marketer is determined to reconnect with young men, "we want to be more progressive in how we think about the use of media in marketing and we do favor surprise over repetition," Mr. Klein said.

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