Burger King was launched in 1954 in Miami by James McLamore and David Edgerton as a fast-food restaurant with indoor dining. The "Whopper" sandwich was introduced in 1957, and Hume, Smith & Mickelberry first advertised the restaurant as "Home of the Whopper" in local TV spots in 1958.
By 1961, the company was offering national and international franchising rights. Forty years later, Burger King Corp. owned nearly 10% of the company, while franchisees held the remainder, with more than 2,500 international franchises in Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
In 1967, Pillsbury Co. acquired Burger King for $18 million and hired BBDO, which developed the 274-restaurant chain's first major promotion, "The bigger the burger, the better the burger." Spending was estimated at more than $4 million, with sales at nearly $80 million.
Marketing to kids
By 1971, the chain had expanded to 800 restaurants and changed its marketing focus from adults to children. With a $6 million budget, it introduced the animated Little King spokes-character with the theme, "Where kids are king." Tossing discs called King Zingers were given away in 1972, the beginning of decades of toy and free promotions offered by Burger King and its chief rival, McDonald's Corp.
Shaking McDonald's with the "Have it your way" campaign in 1973, Burger King put service in the spotlight with the jingle, "Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us." The campaign increased ad awareness by 50%. The Little King was retired, and "Have it your way" was adapted to target children with ad efforts tagged "All kids are different" and "Pickle-less Nicholas."
After four years of rapid growth, Burger King consolidated operations, but the reorganization strained its relationship with BBDO. In 1976, J. Walter Thompson Co. won the fast-feeder's $25 million account. Featuring BK customers on location, "America loves burgers, and we're America's Burger King" was JWT's first campaign for the chain. In February 1978, spots taglined "Best darn burger" ran one evening in prime-time TV programming during a four-hour period, targeting 140 million viewers.
Capitalizing on the differences between Burger King and its two major competitors, McDonald's and Wendy's International, JWT launched a "burger wars" effort in 1982 with the slogan "Battle of the burgers." A taste-test comparison of the three fast-food giants' hamburgers found the Whopper to be the best-tasting, spawning lawsuits from both rivals.
McDonald's request for an injunction was denied, but Burger King agreed to phase out its ads. Four months later, Burger King ads emphasized that McDonald's hamburgers were fried while Burger King burgers were broiled, and therefore superior. (The company later agreed to phase out those ads as well.) Meanwhile, BK added UniWorld Group to its U.S. agency roster in 1983; UniWorld remained the company's African-American agency of record into 2001.
In 1986, JWT used two spots on the Super Bowl broadcast to launch the $40 million "It's not too late, Herb" campaign featuring a nerdy character who had never tried a Burger King hamburger. The four-month campaign failed to increase sales.
JWT lost its 11-year hold on the Burger King account in 1987, when its parent, JWT Group, became the target of a hostile takeover by the U.K.-based WPP Group. N.W. Ayer took over the BK account for two years, developing "We do it like you do it," a return to the broiling-vs.-frying comparison advertising.
In 1988, Burger King parent Pillsbury was acquired by Grand Metropolitan, which chose D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles to handle ad duties for its new unit. That association, which lasted three years, produced work echoing the famous "Have it your way" campaign.
The chain's next agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, launched the Burger King Kids Club national program, before handing the account to Ammirati Puris Lintas in 1994. In 1997, Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diageo PLC. That year, Ammirati introduced a Mr. Potato Head spokes-character for Burger King's new $70 million french-fry campaign; the figure was created as a clay animation character, originally targeted at Hispanic and African-American audiences but then moved into mainstream advertising.
In 1999, Ammirati, by then operating as Lowe Lintas & Partners, featured actress Kathleen Turner's sexy voice in its "Got the urge?" campaign, introducing the new "X-treme double cheeseburger." In early 2001, Burger King switched its $400 million account to McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, with Campbell Mithun handling children's work. Later that year, however, the fast-food company phased McCann out.
In 2003, Burger King moved national creative duties to Y&R Advertising; billings were estimated at $350 million. The move occurred shortly after Diageo sold the No. 2 U.S. hamburger chain to a consortium led by Texas Pacific Group.
In January 2004, after yearling CEO Brad Blum?s fire-grilling position failed to ignite sales, BKC abruptly shifted ad duties to MDC Corp.?s Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, from Y&R and revived its 30-year old theme "Have it your way." A month later, President Bob Nilson resigned.