Power Players 2009

Burger King's John Chidsey Is Ad Age's No. 29 Power Player

'Super Fan' Strategy Less Than Super During Economic Downturn

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Last Year
THE POWER: Burger King CEO John Chidsey takes brand seriously, regularly singling out his company's advertising success in earnings calls. Mr. Chidsey not only draws out specific sales gains attached to particular promotions, such as "Whopper Freakout," but even goes so far as to credit his advertising agency. Mr. Chidsey has taken great care to make sure investors and analysts know the meaning of "super fan," or the young, hungry men who frequent fast-food chains, and respond to the chain's edgier advertising. The recession, however, has challenged the brand strategy.

THE NUMBERS: While the chain posted some of the industry's best numbers in late 2008, on the heels of "Whopper Freakout," it has fallen off since. Burger King was posting 5% same-store sales gains at the time, but the chain was down nearly 5% during the most recent quarter. The chain is losing burger-category market share, according to Technomic, down to 14.2% from 15.6% in 2003, when the business and brand were in worse shape. In 2008, Burger King spent $326 million on measured media. First-half 2009 spending fell off 5% to $146 million.

THE KEY LIEUTENANTS: Russ Klein, BK's chief marketing officer, has been a dynamic force within the company since assuming the role six years ago. He has however, been a polarizing force among the franchisee community. He stepped down to take a personal leave of absence in September. Mike Kappitt, senior VP-business intelligence, is leading day-to-day marketing in his absence.

THE CHALLENGE: The chain's sales have fallen behind the fast-food industry, which as a whole, is flat or slightly down. Burger King executives have said that the chain needs a stronger value platform, better-looking restaurants, and more premium options to compete with casual dining. Some franchisees say the chain needs messaging that doesn't alienate women, senior citizens and minorities.

THE AGENCIES: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which has been the chain's creative agency of record for five years, has become synonymous with Burger King's advertising. Campbell Mithun handles smaller projects, including the kids'-meal business.

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