Like Lambs to the Slaughter

One of the biggest award winners in digital this year is Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s “Whopper Sacrifice” campaign for Burger King, a Facebook application that claimed that “friendship is strong, but the Whopper is stronger.” To prove that theory, BK fans were asked to de-friend 10 of their Facebook friends in exchange for a coupon for a free Whopper.
 
Like much of Crispin’s work for the brand, the campaign stirred up controversy — in this case, for inverting the kind of behavior Facebook promotes: Instead of adding friends, it asked members to ruthlessly pare them down. The real sticking point, which caused BK to cancel “Whopper Sacrifice” in the middle of its run, was that it infringed on a Facebook policy. As a rule, Facebook does not alert you when someone drops you as a friend; “Whopper Sacrifice” did. (Those doing the deleting watched as pics of their ex-friends went up in flames.)
 
Some thought the campaign was mean; others saw it as a brilliant, attention-grabbing effort that was well executed and well timed and that tapped into a latent dissatisfaction with the social network and its liberal use of the word “friend.” To date, the effort has amassed its share of industry accolades, including a gold One Show Pencil, a gold ADC Cube, a finalist nod from D&AD and, most recently, a Grand CLIO in Interactive.
 
“I wish I’d thought of it,” says Fernanda Romano, a CLIO judge who last week said she was leaving JWT to join Euro RSCG as global cd for digital and experiential advertising. “It was genius to tap into something that was so current, this hype of having loads of contacts and competing with your friends to see if you can friend more people. The tonality and the sense of humor, it’s so sarcastic, it really works for the [teen/young adult] they are targeting.”
 
The campaign grew out of the client and agency’s ongoing quest to keep stoking the passion of “Whopper love,” as they call it-the devotion BK fans feel for the signature flame-broiled sandwich, already demonstrated with past campaigns like “Whopper Freakout” and “Whopper Virgins.” The agency presented its idea of creating a Facebook application to the client last September along with the entire Whopper strategy, including the “Virgins” work, for a seasonal push around the holidays.

“We’ve had a great history in creating culture-jamming work,” says Rob Reilly, co-executive creative director at Crispin. “It’s probably the most free assignment you can have. If it’s the most popular hamburger in America, how do we promote that without chest pounding?”

Reilly credits interactive executive creative director Jeff Benjamin for coming up with a concept that hit a hot button, and a team of in-house developers, including associate technical director Mat Ranauro, for executing it. With so many brands giving users the option to add “friends,” Reilly recalls Benjamin asking: What if a brand gave its users a way of getting rid of some online friends, many of whom are acquaintances at best anyway?
 
“The tension was out there and still is,” says Reilly, explaining why the app resonated with the Facebook community enough to inspire the sacrifice of nearly 224,000 “friends” and the distribution of nearly 20,000 coupons for free burgers. And this was over a short campaign life: It launched Dec. 22 and was canceled Jan. 14, when Facebook pulled the plug on it. Crispin estimates the campaign generated some 35 million free media impressions.
 
“It was a clever way to drive branded conversation,” says Blake Cahill, svp of marketing at online brand management firm Visible Technologies. “Unfriending people certainly got attention.” And, he adds, the brand tied the app back into something tangible that could drive people into the restaurants.
 
Facebook argued that the app was contradictory to user expectations and asked that BK disable the broadcasting feature. Instead, BK “sacrificed” its own application and amplified the buzz even further. According to Trendrr, mentions of “Whopper Sacrifice” spiked to their highest level on Twitter the day after it was pulled. Daily volume of Google searches hit a high of 360,000 in late January and remained above 250,000 until early February.
 
Brian Gies, vp of marketing impact at Burger King Corp., sums it up this way: “Like so many things we do, it was an experiment, but we knew the concept had social currency and talk value. We were ready when it took off, and we loved it for what it did.”

Related: “BK, Crispin Dish on ‘The King.'”