Burger King "Vest"
That all began to change after Crispin Porter + Bogusky launched its inaugural "Have it Your Way" work for the troubled brand shortly after raising eyebrows with the account win early in the year. Then it all changed some more when BK introduced its Tendercrisp chicken product. The now famous "Subservient Chicken" campaign launched that new sandwich and a pop culture phenomenon and furthered CP+B's efforts to establish an affection connection between formerly bland BK and glassy-eyed, well-fed consumers.
The campaign's exceptional commercials component was only so much spicy condiment on top of the fried flesh that was the SC website -- a site that was forwarded to a small group of people on April 8 and that garnered 100,000,000 hits two weeks after its launch, with visitors spending an average of seven minutes and 35 seconds with the people-pleasing pullet.
From every angle one looks at this campaign, there is something to respect. There is the brilliance and brilliant dirtiness of the spots, executed with shocking finesse by Rocky Morton. There are the site traffic numbers, the media coverage, the cultural cachet, the plain fact that Burger King co-opted web porn in order to connect with its desired audience in the first place. And that may be the most striking thing about this whole exercise -- a (Red state-based) marketer abandoning the usual pap-inducing fear of not pleasing everyone in favor of a direct, authentic piece of entertainment that would resonate specifically with those young (male-skewing) fast food consumers on the marketer's hit list. It's a seemingly simple thing that many advertisers seem to consistently have difficulty doing.
Klein speaks in a matter of fact marketer voice and talks about "Subservient Chicken" as if he were recounting a strategy to use recycled paper in take-out bags. "When I talk about this, I try and point out to people who are struck by the novelty of 'Subservient Chicken' that it was a very purposeful campaign," says Klein. "It was about having chicken your way and what better way to show that than bossing around a chicken. It was not a gratuitous venture in creativity." As far as the, um, striking nature and connotations of the work, Klein reasserts that the campaign was not designed for everyone. "We are a big marketer but we are not a mass marketer," says Klein. "In that sense we feel we have sharply targeted initiatives across various products. Confined to this particular channel, we felt we were within the realm of what was appropriate for our audience. If you are going to be targeted you have to deliver something that is relevant to that target."
Klein does admit he perhaps takes a less formulaic approach than some of his marketing brethren in terms of viewing ads as more than product fact-conveying vehicles and endorsing a more ephemeral brand of communication. "While we are all about our great food there is a much bigger social transaction that takes place with our brand that requires we are pop culture relevant and have social currency in what we do," he says. "We have to shed our skin every so often to stay current. I have a more liberal view than maybe classic brand strategists would have around the need for perishable execution and ideas that reflect the mood of the market." The results of the campaign doubtless help put that unapologetic lilt in Klein's voice -- the product he says has represented a half a billion dollar-plus business to BK. "It will be a platform that will mean innovation and news on our calendar and it is part of what is a nine going on ten months of same store sales growth," says Klein.
So "Subservient Chicken" is an easy campaign of the year. But, will it make Burger King finally settle down and find love in a long-term relationship? "We are delighted with the partnership," says Klein. "I have nothing but high hopes that it will be a long and mutually satisfying relationship."
(This article appears in the December 2004 issue of Creativity.)