BK Rebels Fall in Love With King

As IPO Nears, Franchisees Warm to Crispin's Edgy Targeting of Teens

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Long live the king. Following a battle royal over a controversial strategy to target its marketing squarely at young, largely male fast-food fanatics with uncomfortably edgy advertising, Burger King's franchisees are now kneeling at the throne of the plastic monarch.
The Burger King 'King' has gained favor with former franchisee detractors.
The Burger King 'King' has gained favor with former franchisee detractors.

With sales on the upswing and its public offering nearing, owner-operators-in open revolt last year-were all smiles at Burger King's annual convention last week in Orlando, Fla. At its last meeting, then-CEO Brad Blum sparred publicly with franchisees, prompting speaker Jack Welch to call the group dysfunctional. And that's not unusual for an ad world in which corporate marketers and their agencies spend much of their time second-guessing, battling and being blocked by franchisees, bottlers, distributors or dealers-take your pick, depending on the business category-who hold so much sway over their companies.

But this was an altogether different meeting. Operators rose to their feet in ovation over a new commercial that celebrates the "Super Fan," the very demographic that had previously caused so much angst in the BK ranks.

"I've been around 36 years and this was one of the more positive conventions I've been to," said Alex Salgueiro, who owns a dozen stores near Savannah, Ga. "I've been to some real wakes. This is probably a wedding."

Applause thundered through the ballroom at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center when the marketer previewed a spot characteristic of BK's strategy to thumb its nose at fast-food naysayers and embrace the unapologetic Whopper-wolfing young Super Fan that accounts for nearly half of all Burger King visits. The 60-second spot, "Manthem," from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, parodies the Helen Reddy song "I Am Woman," and its lyrics spurn "chick food" to gleefully exalt the meat, cheese and more meat and cheese combos that can turn "innies into outies," all while showing guys burning their briefs and pushing a minivan off a bridge.

Owner-operators liked the spot so much that they clamored for a second showing the next day.

"I feel much better this year than I have in the last three, four or five years," said Mahendra Nath, owner operator of 90 stores in the upper Midwest and Florida. "I've been up 7.8% in 2004, 4.8% for 2005 and up 2.8% for this quarter so far. Now I think we are believers and hopefully the trend is going to keep going."

The king "seems to drive people into the door," said Mr. Salgueiro, whose sales are up three years running. "I think our competitors are scared of the King ... they should be. They say, 'What's with the King?' and my answer is 'It's better than clowns."'

Franchisees got a chance to meet the Super Fan up close and personal, thanks to a "living workshop" set up by Mike Kappitt, VP-consumer insights and performance analysis at BK, along with Crispin, Uniworld Group, New York, and Bromley Communications, San Antonio.

The goal of the "apartment" was to demonstrate how these consumers use media and relate to each other. The booth recreated a living room and kitchen of a typical customer, complete with laptops, plasma screens, photos of girlfriends and Spring Break snapshots. Inside, actors playing Super Fans toyed with Xbox video games, watched football on a plasma TV, texted each other and raided a refrigerator. Burger King is rebuilding the set on the ninth floor of its headquarters to serve as an ongoing lab.

Clearly, formerly freaked-out franchisees are making friends with their Super Fans."All opinions boil down to traffic and sales," said Mr. Salgueiro. "Once that happens, everybody has to shut up with their opinion. We have very a old-franchisee base at this point and some of us don't understand our customers. We have a lot of gray hair."
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