Burger King pulls Paul Giamatti into the chicken sandwich wars

The actor is the voice in the chain’s new Ch’King chicken sandwich campaign that is the stuff of nightmares

Published On
Jun 03, 2021

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Burger King is echoing fan feedback suggesting its Ch’King chicken sandwich might surpass the Whopper in its first campaign promoting the chain’s entry into the chicken sandwich wars. 

“We feel like it’s giving the Whopper a run for its money, so we had a little fun with that for this campaign,” says Ellie Doty, chief marketing officer, Burger King North America.

A new commercial called “Nightmare” depicts the burger chain’s King character scrolling through social media and noticing real comments suggesting the Ch’King might be the chain’s best sandwich yet. The King’s nightmare ensues as the ad progresses in a dreamlike Burger King restaurant featuring patrons, staff and Easter eggs for fans such as a nod to Subservient Chicken, a character used in Burger King ads of the past, and twins who starred in a previous Burger King ad.

“People are going chicken crazy,” the voice of Paul Giamatti says in the tense yet humor-filled scene. The campaign, from David Miami, comes weeks after Burger King announced the sandwich would be called Ch’King and would have a June 3 national debut.

Director Kris Belman of Division7, who was behind some of the brand's other notable moves, including the "Whopper Neutrality" ad  and spots for Cannes Lions Grand Prix-winning "Google Home of the Whoppper" campaign, was behind the camera for this new ad.

The unusual name Ch’King was chosen to help the sandwich “stand out in that sea of sameness,” says Doty, who joined Burger King in 2020 after serving as CMO of Chili’s.

Burger King’s Ch’King launch comes after other chicken sandwiches have shaken up the category, most notably the one launched by Popeyes, its Restaurant Brands International sibling, in 2019.

Rather than comparing its chicken sandwich to rivals, Burger King is pitting the new sandwich against the Whopper.

Burger King’s King mascot “loves all of his children equally,” says Doty, “but to outdo the Whopper might be a nightmare for him.”

In the commercial, a poster on the wall in the restaurant repeatedly reads “The Ch’King is here to stay. King don’t run away. Chicken all day.” The stuff of nightmares reminiscent of “The Shining,” perhaps?

“Has the Whopper finally met its match?” Giamatti asks.

“We just really felt like Paul Giamatti’s voice has that sort of chilling tone that really brought to life the way this sort of surrealist imagery might sound in the King’s mind,” says Doty, noting the dramatic tension in his words, delivered with “just the right amount of flair.”

It is the first time Giamatti has worked with the brand. If McDonald’s can enlist the soothing tones of “Succession” star Brian Cox to help promote items such as its new chicken sandwich, Burger King can certainly hire Giamatti to voice its new campaign.

“Nightmare,” which also has shorter versions, is set to be followed by three additional TV commercials and a radio spot. Future ads will focus on the food itself, including the hand-breading of the sandwich, which Doty sees as a differentiator among chicken sandwiches offered by fast-food burger chains. 

Burger King is offering a free Whopper with online Ch’King orders for two weeks, a way for people to decide which they prefer, while, of course, promoting both the Ch’King and the chain’s most famous burger.

When it comes to chicken, Chick-fil-A remains the market leader among fast feeders. Data from delivery app orders for eight chains tracked by Edison Trends show that in April, Chick-fil-A got 41% of the money spent on chicken sandwiches via food delivery apps, followed by McDonald’s (27%) and Popeyes (12%). Burger King, with 3%, was in 7th place, just above chicken-focused chain Zaxby’s, which garnered 2%.

And, as if the industry needed further proof of the chicken sandwich war continuing to show no end, Chili’s — where BK’s Doty most recently worked — this week announced a new chicken sandwich available just in June.