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Ah, deja vu.

Do you remember the Herb the Nerd campaign, J. Walter Thompson Co.'s disastrous penultimate 1985 effort on the Burger King account? The premise was that Herb was a loser so clueless he hadn't sampled Burger King's grilled-not-fried excellence.

Or some such idiocy. It wasn't around for long.

The new advertising for Burger King from Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, won't be around for long, either. But the sense of deja vu doesn't exactly come from Herb. The point is, he was such a humiliation for everyone involved that JWT soon lost the business to N.W. Ayer in what was at the time the biggest account change in history.

Is it coming back to you?

Are you having, perhaps, little flashbacks to the first Burger King effort from Ayer, a pitiful assemblage of spots dubiously connected by a theme, "We do it like you'd do it when we do it like we do it at Burger King"?

Do you remember wondering how an agency could float such an insipid slogan? Or how any client would be stupid enough to buy it? Do you by any chance remember how we reacted to that long awaited debut almost 111/2 years ago?

"Bring back Herb," we wrote.

Yes, yes. It's true. We've been here before.

The tone, the incoherence, the bizarre lack of cohesion. The latest Ammirati campaign for the No. 2 burger slinger is exactly as dreadfully disconnected and lame as Ayer's infamous Burger Bungle -- a debacle, it's worth recalling, that quickly cost Ayer the business, sowing the seeds of that venerable agency's destruction.

Then came a novel experiment with dual agencies: D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Saatchi & Saatchi. When that failed, D'Arcy handled the account alone. Finally, in 1993, when that too failed, Ammirati took over -- at that point the fifth agency configuration in seven years -- and debuted with a smart, oddball "Get your burger's worth" campaign that combined image and hard retail promotion.

What followed that was the simple, if not simpleminded, "It just tastes better" campaign -- foreground, and very little in the way of brand image or meaning or differentiation.

So now the Burger Kingdom is under siege.

With the chain desperate to freshen its stodgy image and boost per-store sales, we are now asked to endure "When you have it your way it just tastes better," the synthesis of the previous tagline with BBDO's 1974 slogan that still defines BK's made-to-order point of difference.

The problem is, however, that the commercials are absolutely terrible. They are noisy, busy, gigantically not funny and -- worst of all -- unilluminating. One spot inexplicably uses an ice-cream truck-like Whoppermobile trolling the neighborhood and vending burgers to order. The hilarious punchline is the real ice-cream truck drivers are enraged to the point of violence.

The message? Impossible to divine.

Even more obscure and unfunny is the "Stare Down Championship," in which two competitors try to maintain eye contact even when a Whopper is placed between them. One guy can't stand the pressure and eats the sandwich. The winner's secret: a Whopper patch on his arm, reducing his craving.

Unfathomably stupid.

Yet so . . . familiar, evoking that eerie, spectral feeling of the image already seen. Yes, Ammirati is doing it like Ayer did it when Ayer did itself in. So it's not just deja vu; it's nostalgia: the pain of remembering.

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