Shaq cuts Whopper deal

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L.A. Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal is switching teams-to Burger King Corp.

After serving up ads for Taco Bell and causing a run on Big Macs after a promotion for McDonald's Corp., Shaq will assist Burger King in its spring 2002 Whopper re-launch. "We are pleased and proud to have Shaq on the Burger King team," said a company spokeswoman, who declined to provide additional details.

Similar endorsement deals are said to be in the works with other celebrities, to promote new products including the Chicken Whopper, the Heritage Whopper and the King Supreme. Another possibility is sponsorship of a B.B. King/Eric Clapton concert tour, according to executives who attended a recent Burger King calendar-marketing meeting in Memphis, Tenn. The massive tie-ins are part of what's internally called a "rolling thunder" strategy designed to bombard consumers with regular blasts of traffic-building come-ons, according to the executives.

"We're looking at sports, music, celebrities, games, interactive, sponsorships. In short, we're looking at everything," said the Burger King spokeswoman.

As for whether consumers may be confused by Shaq having pitched so many fast-food brands, Shelia Clary, president of Celebrity Focus, said that's of no concern. "What's here and now is what's important."

It's expected the celebrity tie-ins will play a prominent role in the fast-feeder's just-announced multimillion dollar cross-platform marketing partnership with AOL Time Warner.

Through the deal, Diageo's Burger King is offering consumers exclusive access to music, entertainment and sports sites related to AOL Time Warner brands. The entertainment-themed program includes numerous initiatives, including the "Whopper Sports Moment of the Month" with Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated, "BK Backstage," an online pass to behind-the-scenes music and video content, as well as TV and film promotions. The partnership will also be used for in-store and drive-thru programs that will cross-promote AOL Time Warner products, such as selling AOL software in Burger King outlets.

Burger King will tap online agency of record VML, Kansas City, Miss., for interactive advertising around the promotion. Burger King is in the process of searching for an adult market agency of record after its recent split with Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

DeeDee Drays, Burger King senior director-global alliances, said the AOL Time Warner deal was far from a traditional sponsorship and includes incremental spending, although she wouldn't quantify how much. "This is very much a back and forth of sharing assets," she said of the deal, which the Burger King spokeswoman characterized as "the biggest alliance deal Burger King has ever done."

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