Pillbury Co.'s Burger King restaurant chain and its agency since 1976, J. Walter Thompson, kicked off a "Battle of the Burgers" against McDonald's and Wendy's in the early 1980s with spots including this one, "Ultimate Weapon," starring a pre-celebrity Elisabeth Shue. Shue went on to star in movies such as "The Karate Kid" (1984) and "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987).
Burger King actually employed several soon-to-be-famous endorsers around the time. "We also paired her with a young Andrew McCarthy for a promo spot to announce Burger King switching to Pepsi from Coke," recalled Hal Friedman, creative director on the account at JWT, years later.
Lea Thompson ("Back to the Future," "SpaceCamp") was another sunny presence in a Burger King uniform for the Battle of the Burgers. One holiday commercial for Burger King featured Shue, Thompson and future "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar, then still a child, singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
As for the Battle of the Burgers, Burger King successfully drew its rivals into its game, as the Washington Post reported in 1985:
Its taste-test campaign offered condolences to McDonald's and Wendy's because consumers allegedly preferred its burgers to theirs. McDonald's and Wendy's sued, the case was settled out of court and Burger King dropped the series. At J. Walter Thompson, people could hardly contain their glee. "Goliath versus David," Hal Friedman purrs. "Twenty to 30 million worth of free publicity, we figure. We enjoyed double-digit growth for 15 or 16 months."
Burger King would go on to make Super Bowl ad buys including "Find Herb" in 1986, kicking off a consumer search for the Whopper-loving nerd; "Used Cars" in 1995, bringing a new agency and new theme to the game; and "America's Favorite" in 2006, a musical showstopper directed by Super Bowl star director Bryan Buckley.Send credit info to [email protected].