Teressa Iezzi weighs in on Burger King's "Subservient Chicken."
Burger King "Vest"
With so much peripheral data around the budding CP+B - Burger King relationship -- the fast food outlet's sales woes, the promiscuity of a client that's in a league with the California Lottery in the steadfast resolve department, predictions about the impact of pounding a huge square client peg into small, round CP+B -- one could almost lose sight of the work. Happily, Crispin's latest effort for BK Chicken has made that impossible.
With this effort, and for BK in general, CP+B has made one smart move after another. First, the agency redeployed the "Have It Your Way" tag. Why not? Then, in keeping with house style, the Crispin crew created some great spots, but also created something bigger than a TV campaign. When CP+B won the account, the agency said it would fix more than the ads, and it will be interesting to see how the agency interprets all those "touch points." For now, they're touching our points with a campaign that creates a new -- and improved -- cultural persona for the brand, rescuing it from fast food sizzling-meat-porn obscurity.
The TenderCrisp campaign includes a series of delectably weird commercials and, as you are no doubt aware by now, a website called subservientchicken.com, where chicken enthusiasts and the curious can make a chicken-suited humanoid respond to commands. It's certainly on message -- the "have chicken your way" idea couldn't be clearer. A viral launch and an outrageously impure feel have made it catnip for the intended younger audience -- the site garnered 15 million hits within a week of its debut -- but it has appealed to that audience without a pathetic attempt to be "down."
As for the TV spots, they're pure executional brilliance, courtesy of the constantly surprising Rocky Morton. The best is "Vest," in which a young man with a cruel, thin mouth orders his chicken (partner? paid escort? captive gimp?) -- and not very nicely -- to "put on that vest," while flipping through a series of chicken-themed Polaroids. Played more broadly, and in the hands of the wrong director, the spot would have been simply absurd, with strictly teen appeal. Instead, it's a multilayered gem, to which everyone can bring their own weird, adult, projections. Everything -- the casting, the lighting, even details like the actor's haircut and outfit and leering smile -- contributes to the air of unnaturalness here. The end effect is slightly subversive, evoking perversion and creating discomfort without shock tactics. It's a dirty little zig as the rest of the media industry submits to a big bucket of cold fish in the form of an indecency chill.
Of course, all of this will be moot a few months from now, when McDonald's is still kicking ass with "I'm Lovin' It" cringers and BK flys the coop for another big, square agency. But for now, lets all just squirm with delight.
(Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine.)