A Wonderfully Edgy Ad Campaign Fails Its Product

By Published on .

Client: Burger King
Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami,
Star Rating: 2

Just so happens, in the same week we first encountered subservientchicken.com, we finished reading War and Peace.

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War and Peace is a sweeping epic about the Napoleonic Wars and 19th-century Russian aristocracy. It's a breathtaking portrait of human joy and suffering, triumph and folly. It is equally a spiritual journey, a harsh polemic and portal into the psyche -- not to mention soul -- of man.

Chicken suit and garter belt
Subservientchicken.com is a fake Web cam of somebody in a giant chicken suit and a garter belt.

Hard to say, though, which is more unforgettable.

Not to suggest that a little viral advertising from Burger King compares artistically to perhaps the greatest novel ever written. It doesn't -- but this Web stunt is, in its own way, indelible. Because it's not just a chicken; it's a subservient chicken. Type in commands, and the chicken -- in cleverly faked real time -- does exactly what you ask.

It's hard to describe how weird and hilarious this exercise is. Even if it weren't a perfectly absurd parody of supposed college girls being naughty on demand via Web cam, we can't emphasize enough that this site enables you to get someone in a chicken suit to do your bidding.

Top that, Tolstoy.

Walk like an Egyptian
Rostov and Pierre and Natasha and Prince Andrei are extraordinary characters who practically jump from the page as flesh-and-blood beings, but if you say to Prince Andrei "walk like an Egyptian" he will not walk like an Egyptian before your very eyes. The subservient chicken will. As at least 20 million people have discovered in the past two weeks, he'll also perform jumping jacks, moon the viewer, dance the Electric Slide and die.

The advertising point being that you can have chicken your way at Burger King.

Colossal success and failure
As viral advertising goes, subservientchicken.com is a colossal success. It was created at pennies on the dollar compared to the American Express Seinfeld/Superman Web featurette we considered last week, with manyfold more downloads. Alas, as viral advertising goes, subservientchicken.com is also a colossal failure, because even though there is a great overlap between Web habitues and Burger King's core audience, nobody seems to have been motivated into actually purchasing a chicken product from the advertiser.

This may be because, like so much conventional advertising, it is so busy being edgy and weird and funny and subversive, it doesn't bother to put the brand on display. Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, intentionally obscured the Burger King connection in order not to seem too commercial and uncool.

Better to be branded
Don't get us started. The kindest thing we can say, once we get the tremors under control, is that strategy is too circumspect by half. Isn't it better to be explicitly branded and slightly less hip than coolly clandestine and completely cluckin' anonymous? It's as if Tolstoy had set his novel in the fictitious country of Slavisenia in order not to seem too chauvinistically Russian.

So the comparison is apt after all: War and Peace and subservientchicken.com are both masterpieces, but neither is an ad. Which is why there's so great a difference between the compliant hen and BK sales:

Like Rostov, Natasha, et al., when you command them to jump, they don't.

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