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Cannes Lions

Burger King: A Look Back at Some of the Best Ideas From Cannes Lions' Creative Marketer of the Year

By Published on .

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity just named Burger King its Creative Marketer of the Year. For decades the brand has consistently delivered ideas that have carved out new pathways for the industry on a spectrum of platforms, including PR, activations, digital, branded content and even product. Here's a look at some of the best.

King Games

Crispin Porter & Bogusky was behind much of the brand's legendary creative ideas. One of those was 2007's "King Games," a series of three Xbox titles that brought the brand's cast of characters into the much larger storytelling canvas of the gaming world -- leading to then-unprecedented levels of consumer-brand interaction. "Sneak King," "PocketBike Racer" and "Big Bumpin" each retailed for $3.99 at BK restaurants. In early 2007, sales estimates for the titles were around 3.2 million units (that's more than one for each of the Xbox 360 consoles that were in homes at the time).

At Cannes, Cutwater founder Chuck McBride noted, "They took an advertising icon and turned him into a real character, and turned the character into a game, and the game into a real business model." He also praised the agency for doing something shops haven't quite figured out to this day. "We still don't get paid properly for our ideas at agencies," he said. "But Crispin took their intellectual property and figured out how to capitalize it. That makes me jealous and jealousy leads to awards."

Whopper Sacrifice

CP&B's Titanium and Gold-Awarded campaign rode the wave of social media "friending" habits -- and then diverted them -- by asking Facebook users to break up with 10 of their buddies to get a free Whopper. The campaign was cut short, however, after 234,000 friendships were sacrificed. Facebook had wanted BK to tweak the idea so it wouldn't conflict with users' "privacy expectations," but rather than making changes to the application, BK and the agency decided to sacrifice the campaign, rather than dilute the idea.

Whopper Freakout

CP&B's Gold-winning idea punked loyal Whopper eaters by pulling Burger King's signature burger off its menu. On that day, lives were shattered, stomachs went grumbling and pranking went on to become a go-to tactic for many a marketer.

Subservient Chicken

Burger King's 'Subservient Chicken'
Burger King's 'Subservient Chicken' Credit: CP&B/The Barbarian Group

If anything, this was the campaign that had the industry talking in 2004. Burger King brought a whole new take to its "Have It Your Way" tagline by introducing a chicken-suited character who would do (almost anything) you asked it to.

Created out of Crispin Porter & Bogusky and The Barbarian Group, the campaign featured a pair of spots and, most notably, a website on which viewers could command the freaky fowl to do random things. The site earned a million hits the day after its release, and the following week, those jumped to 15 million. "We've had things take off before, but this was an explosion," CP&B's then-CCO Alex Bogusky told Creativity at the time. Ten years later, David and Code and Theory resurrected the Subservient Chicken in an "explosive" reprisal.

Simpsonize Me

This idea won a Bronze Lion and remains one of our all-time favorites. In a tie-up with Fox's "The Simpsons Movie," Burger King won the hearts of Homer and Bart fans all over with this online tool that transformed users (including the brand's own "King" mascot) into a character who'd look perfectly at home in Springfield.

Proud Whopper

In 2014, Burger King, along with agency David Miami, introduced a new item to its menu -- a Proud Whopper. The product debuted along with the Gay Pride Celebration in San Francisco and came wrapped in rainbow-colored paper. Customers weren't told what was in it, but once they opened it up, they found nothing different, only the message "We are all the same inside."

Their reactions show how powerful the idea was. Sales of the burger went to support scholarships for LGBT college-bound high school seniors. It earned multiple Gold Lions, in Promo & Activation, Design and PR.

The McWhopper

In anticipation of Peace Day, Burger King put an unusual proposal before its main rival McDonald's -- to create the McWhopper, a burger that brought together the best of each restaurant's signature offerings.

Y&R New Zealand came up with the idea, with the help of other BK partners including David, ABPR, Code & Theory, Horizon, Rock Orange and Turner Duckworth. It was also the result of an 18-month collaboration with BK's marketing team. Unfortunately, McDonald's didn't buy in, but BK was later able to pull in four others, including Denny's, for what became the "Peace Day Burger."

The original McWhopper idea went on to win double Grand Prix, multiple Golds and a Titanium Lion at Cannes last year.

Burger King Reveals the End of a McDonald's Commercial

Back in January, McDonald's debuted a billboard that told travelers how very far away the next Burger King restaurant was, so a week later, Burger King, along with Buzzman Paris fired back with this Gold Lion-winning ad that told the "real" end of the story.

The work that follows debuted after Cannes last year. Some of it may help BK add more hardware to its shelf.

Scariest BK

In what may have been the funniest PR stunt of the year, Burger King (with the help of agency David) decided to dress up for Halloween -- as McDonald's. Agency David Miami cloaked one restaurant with a gigantic white sheet, complete with cut-out eyes, Golden Arches eyebrows and its competitor's name.

Burger Queen

For International Women's Day, Burger King answered the age-old mystery, "If there's a Burger King, who is Burger Queen?" in this touching stunt created out of Y&R Shanghai.

Flame-Grilled Subway

Burger King 'Flame-Grilled Subway'
Burger King 'Flame-Grilled Subway' Credit: Cheil

This simple out-of-home idea made clever use of subway cars' luggage racks to remind commuters how Burger King's burgers are flame-grilled. It was conceived by a student in Seoul and realized with the help of Cheil.

Christmas Jumper

Count on Burger King to make the tacky Christmas sweater even tackier. Buzzman Paris, the agency behind the "End of the McDonald's Ad" ad, partnered with French retailer Rad.co on this holiday sweater that lights up with real flames, with the help of your smartphone. Of course, it also features a Whopper, as well as the words "flame-grilled."

Haters Gonna Love

In this recent campaign from David and Code and Theory, Burger King reached out personally to its very vocal haters to convince them to give their recently reinvented Chicken Sandwich a new try. Personal attention from The King aside, it looks like some of them changed their minds.

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