Has Burger King's First McGarryBowen's Ad Helped the Brand?

YouGov BrandIndex Shows Consumer Perception Higher

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When Burger King's first spot by McGarryBowen broke, many industry people had a lot to say about it. "It could be for any burger joint out there," said one commenter on AdAge.com. "First time in a long time I've seen anything that made me want to eat at Burger King," said another.

But did it leave a good impression on average consumers?

One study suggests yes. Recent consumer perception of Burger King is up, according to a survey by YouGov's BrandIndex. Among people who had visited fast-food restaurants in the hamburger category in the last month -- the same time that Burger King's first aired McGarryBowen's ad for the California Whopper -- their perception of Burger King had gone from a 24.2 before the ad aired to a 34.3 just two days after the launch of the spot. (YouGov BrandIndex's scores range from 100 to -100 and are compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive.)

Impression of McDonald's before the ads aired were as high as 54.0, but dipped down, ending the study on Sept. 9 with 34.8. At the same time, consumers' impression of Burger King spiked to 45.1 but tapered off, ending with a 38.4. Not much higher than McDonald's, but still above its initial score.

The ad for the California Whopper, which is strictly product-oriented, is a departure from the quirky and King-oriented advertising that Burger King's previous agency, CPB, was known for. "We will continue to take a more 'food-centric' marketing approach, which appeals to a broader audience with more emphasis on our high-quality food, made fresh to order," said a spokeswoman in an email. "Consumers will continue to see a clear difference in how we talk about our menu and the imagery we use."

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Courtesy of Burger King Corp.

Of the results, a spokeswoman for McDonald's said via email: "Our internal measures show that consumer perceptions around 'brand that is changing for the better,' 'improving quality of food,' and 'food choices I can eat regularly' are on the rise."

But even if there is an initial boost in positive perception of Burger King, it's only reflecting the impression people have now, and it doesn't necessarily translate to the long term. "This is an indication that they're off to a nice start, but it's not going to turn the prospects for Burger King around," said Ted Marzilli, senior VP-global managing director, BrandIndex. "They need to continue to drive awareness and impressions and bring Burger King to top of mind when people are thinking about where to eat, and then they need get them to act on those impulses."

Not to mention, McDonald's has been consistently bringing in positive sales throughout the recession, its advertising budget, at $887 million in U.S. measured media, according to Kantar, is nearly three times that of Burger King's, and it has twice as many locations in the U.S. as Burger King.

McDonald's August same-store sales were up 3.9% in the U.S., though the results missed analysts' expectations. Still, McDonald's is the dominant chain in the U.S. by a wide margin, and commands nearly a 50% share in the domestic hamburger-chain category. Burger King has a 13.9% share.

Simply put: Burger King is facing an uphill battle. Its second-quarter U.S. and Canada comparable sales were down 2.2%, and its estimated 2010 sales was down about 2.5%, according to Technomic.

And many would argue that the food is not the problem for Burger King. The chain over the years has cycled through various owners, and it's experienced a churn in its marketing department in the last couple years. In February, the chain announced the departure of Exec VP-Global Chief Marketing Officer Natalia Franco, only nine months after she joined the fast feeder. Her predecessor, Russ Klein, took a leave of absence in September 2009, and the company confirmed his departure in November. Ad Age in August reported the company plans to tap Flavia Faugeres as CMO, though the company said that it had not made a decision about her taking on the global CMO role.

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