Fast-Food Wars: Burger King relaunches for spinoff

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It's crunch time for Chris Clouser and his cronies.

As Burger King Corp. this week relaunches its brand, the chain's chief marketing officer is making a high-stakes bet that a disparate band of agencies will deliver cohesive, effective work to spur restaurant sales as it prepares to spin off from parent Diageo.

Ad veteran Len Fink, who signed on as a consultant last fall, created a new campaign through his Santa Monica, Calif., ad boutique, Amoeba. Mr. Fink also heads a council of creative directors from agencies that are supposed to coexist and cooperate in the Burger Kingdom.

In the months leading up to the relaunch, insiders have expressed that there was little integration or communication among participants. Now that Mr. Fink has set a creative baseline, that could change.

"Once this campaign is seeded, [the creative council] will meet frequently to ensure we have a symbiotic relationship and that everybody is working on the same page," said Mr. Fink.

the council

Others on the creative council include Co-Chairman Bill Lane, whose shop, McCaffery Ratner Gottlieb & Lane, New York, handles general branding; Catarino Lopez, associate creative director at Bcom3 Group-backed Hispanic shop Bromley Communications, San Antonio; Robert Shaffron, group creative director of WPP Group-backed African-American agency Uniworld Group, New York; John Hurst, exec VP-chief creative officer of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, which works on kids' ads; and Scott McCormick, co-founder of i-shop VML, Kansas City, Mo. Most have prior ties to Mr. Clouser.

Mr. Clouser took a similar approach with media buying by tapping those he's worked with in the past. Richard Kostyra, founder of independent media-buying shop Media First International, New York, last fall grabbed a piece of Burger King business from Bcom3's MediaVest. Mr. Kostyra is chair of Burger King's media council. Mr. Clouser, who declined to comment, used Media First at Northwest.

"Chris has assembled a group of people he trusts," said Mr. Lane, who worked at J. Walter Thompson when Mr. Clouser handled public relations at then-client Sprint. "He handpicks each to do different things rather than have one mega-resource."

The new work is the latest try from a marketer known for a revolving door of agencies, campaigns and executives. Burger King's last lead agency, Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, was on board only from January to September 2001; it parted soon after Mr. Clouser arrived in the spring.

The chain needs to increase sales to ease a spinoff from Diageo. Burger King posted a 1.5% gain in same-store sales in the fourth quarter 2001, its best performance since the first quarter of 2000, according to Merrill Lynch estimates. But Burger King traffic fell 20%-to 20,000 monthly customers a store-in 2001 vs. 1995. It also must contend with America's changing palate; interest in burgers and fries appears to be slipping. And rivals aren't standing still (see related article, P. 26).

Craig Braasch, VP-global advertising and promotion, said the chain intends to get its "fair share" of market share, meaning sales would equal its share of fast-food hamburger stores. In 2000, Burger King's 8,326 U.S. units accounted for 19.7% of fast food burger stores but only 18.8% of category sales with $8.5 billion domestic sales.

For the new campaign, Burger King and Mr. Fink developed three 30-second spots to expand on the chain's have-it-your-way differentiation. "It's a moment of control where you're somebody and you get what you want," Mr. Fink said.

old and new

The first spot features NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, who visits the chain as he travels through time. The campaign ties old taglines into the new "@BK You Got It" (AA, Feb. 18). Another spot set in a `50s theater shows an audience wearing 3D glasses reacting to a massive Whopper flying overhead.

Mr. Fink works with Burger King much as he did with Coca-Cola Co. at Creative Artists Agency and then Edge Creative in the `90s, when he first met Mr. Clouser. "All those [earlier] messages have to be contemporized and made relevant again like how we did it with the Coke bottle and top," he said, referring to Coca-Cola's "Always" campaign.

Central to the relaunch, Burger King has upgraded its flagship Whopper and is adding 14 products. There will be at least one spot for every major product launch.

A big boost in ad spending does not appear to be part of Burger King's plan. The chain intends to spend more than $300 million on U.S. advertising this year; it last year spent just below $300 million, according to a full-year extrapolation of Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR data for the first 11 months. That's well below the $400 million-plus Burger King regularly spent annually in the late `90s. As Mr. Clouser and his ad hoc ad team look to make noise with the new campaign, there is a good chance No. 2 Burger King will end up being outspent by No. 3 Wendy's.

contributing: richard linnett

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