The agency prides itself on being media-agnostic, which I'm beginning to think means that it would rather play around with cute little viral promotions than concentrate on one big idea that works powerfully across all media-including 30-second TV spots.
What agencies need to do is reinforce big, bold ideas through all the new media and technologies available-as well as the traditional media that can still pack a punch.
My problem with much of today's so-called integrated communications is that it isn't very integrated. The big idea, assuming there is one, is subverted to whatever medium is chosen to play the lead role at the time, so any overall theme is dissipated in its impact.
That's the weakness of the Burger King campaign. The Subservient Chicken got attention, but it only very weakly reinforced BK's theme of "Have it your way." Worse, it played to just one audience segment.
And now the entire campaign has come under fire from BK's franchise organization, which says the ads skew too heavily to male teens and ignore other important segments.
That's the problem with some of the viral marketing that Crispin Porter has been doing. It's so intent on playing its little frat jokes that the overall brand thrust suffers.
Seth Stevenson, who writes about advertising for Slate.com, said he had gotten some suspicious e-mails about a BK Halloween mask. One said: "How can someone like me go about getting a Burger King head like the one in the commercials? This would make an excellent costume now that Halloween is approaching and everyone I know seems to eat at Burger King on a regular basis. "
The e-mail, Stevenson writes, "smelled pungently fishy. Why were these readers (about six or seven in all) so eager to dress as a corporate mascot (at $9 for the mask). Why did they get the idea at the exact same time? Why was no one asking about, say, Geico caveman costumes? And wouldn't it be infinitely funnier to dress as the Dove ladies?"
So he called Crispin Porter and the guy there said "not that I know of" when he was asked if the agency had orchestrated all those e-mails. "His mealy-mouthed tone convinced me that my suspicions were justified."
Stevenson contends "mild deceptions-mostly in the form of anonymous viral campaigns" like Subservient Chicken and the King mask caper-"seem to be Crispin's specialty."
And that, eventually, will blow up in its face. Once you're on to a con, you don't believe anything else about the campaign, for one thing. But more importantly, it takes the agency's eye off the main job of building strong brand equity for "Have it your way." You can't build a great campaign on a series of cute little stunts, unless you have a cute little account.
And that's what Crispin had with BMW's Mini Cooper. The agency's work was a series of clever promotional ploys, like putting the car in a glass case, with little traditional advertising. The Mini Cooper appealed to a specific buyer who responded to offbeat promotions for the offbeat car.
Now that Crispin has won the more mainstream Volkswagen account, the question must be asked: Does the agency have what it takes to develop a strong selling idea that cuts across all demographics? Arnold's "Drivers Wanted" did that, even though the agency was stuck with quality problems for the brand and increased competition from other foreign makers.
Crispin has always prided itself on being the underdog. Well, it's not anymore. Let's see if it can dismount that tired old pony and if it still has a few new tricks up its sleeve.