A Royal Welcome

CP+B is dead-on with a pair of bizarre Burger King spots

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood—the sun is shining, birds are singing, and you’re waking up in your Crate & Barrel-y contemporary bedroom with the headboard against the happenin’ apple-green wall. And then a large foreign mound leans into your face.

It’s the King. He has a head the size of seven Casaba melons, a crown and an unmoving mask of a face. Is this a Six Feet Under-like dream? Because, for reasons unknown, a massive Henry VIII-like potentate has colonized your bed. Not only is he invading your most intimate space, but his Hair-Club-for-Men, fake-Luciano-Pavarotti dark pompadour-and-beard-combo is almost scarier than his waxy visage. The creepiness meter is off the charts even without considering his ruffles and fur and cocktail rings.

With the very hand on which the big ring sits, the Royal produces a double Croissan’wich on a silver platter. And with the voiceover, though it doesn’t seem possible, it gets even weirder: “Egg and meat and cheese and meat and cheese,” announcer/musician/actor Billy Vera says very slowly in a low, mellow stupor, as he repeats the ingredients. Then you get to eat and crack up with the King, although his face still doesn’t move.

Take it for what it is—bizarre, slightly homoerotic (inter-royal relationships, on the next Maury!), completely original and watchable. It also does the job, since it features some readable BK details—crown, breakfast item, unique, crashing graphic tag—throughout. The first time I saw the spot on the air, I thought, What are they smokin’ over at Crispin Porter + Bogusky? Whatever it is, it makes for hilarious, startling, memorable advertising.

And that was before laying eyes on “What’s That Smell?”—aka “Whopperheads”—the commercial starring the three potheads—er, Deadheads or Phishheads—listening to thrash metal in the big German-exchange-student-type van.

The BK core target is males 18-25, and if you wanted the quintessential stoner campaign, you could not do better than these two spots. At the same time, the work does not alienate older persons like myself—I think, like the Subservient Chicken, it’s completely bizarre, but infectious, non-advertising advertising that connects.

As a promo for a tie-in with AOL (get a free song with every Whopper wrapper), “What’s That Smell?” could have been wordy but deadly. But not only is it natural and well-acted, it also manages to promote the AOL deal and the Whopper handsomely. The secret is in the casting of the cop. The kids are obnoxious in a generally clammy, pale, overweight, Jackass sort of way. But the lilt with which the police officer says, “You boys are Whopperheads, aren’t you?” is priceless. (“Enjoy the free music while it lasts, Whopperheads,” he says, adding the deadline incentive.) In the ’60s, Bill Cosby did a routine about being afraid of “turtleheads” when he was a kid. Something about two syllables plus “heads” has proven humor. And as joke items in cheesy gift stores for the last three decades or so have shown, the word whopper still gets its own laughs.

OK, I can hear the grumbling already: Two weird spots do not a campaign make. But this is something about modern advertising that CP+B seems to understand and the rest of the industry ought to start getting: As long as you have some sort of graphic/brand tie-in, why do you have to stick to one campaign? It’s much more fun, and fresh, to keep introducing new content, new characters, under the same general umbrella, and see what works.

For example, I was not a fan of the fake Atkins/infomercial Angus-diet work for BK. I thought it was pretty derivative and stupid. Ditto Ugoff, the German designer guy. Although having him design pouches and refer to the company as “The Burger King” is clever, the idea has been done. Ali G also has a flamboyant German designer character—his weakest. (He’s no Borat.) I will say Ugoff’s Web site (www.ugoff.com) is Zoolander great.

But the holistic approach the agency has taken—redoing the packaging (all the graphics are crisp and contemporary-looking, and also clever), adding an underground-ish Web site, creating ads with constantly changing, unexpected situations and natural, non-shill-y actors—has definitely made the brand cooler. (And obviously the biggest change had to come from BK itself, which is improving its food and introducing new items.) In combination, it’s all working—same-store sales have been up, as of August, for seven consecutive months.

This is just the beginning for the King and the Whopperheads. Other executions are in test markets. (The King is not a morning person, methinks, so the test spot, about staying up late with the King, promoting the franchises’ new late hours, makes sense.) The King’s mask was actually a hideous piece of ’70s BK memorabilia that Alex Bogusky dredged up on eBay. Then the creative team had master mask-and-makeup man Stan Winston re-create it. Despite the King’s unappetizing, queasy-making vibe, and the general terror he could have caused, something about the look of that head (with the trademark crown on top) resonates in a nostalgic, happy kind of way.

Then, of course, there are the references to Elvis, who was also known to enjoy his Hawaiian hamburgers (with pineapple), fried tomato sandwiches, and quarts of ice cream in bed. And in that spirit, with this spot, no doubt, many double Croissan’wiches will leave the building.



Burger King

Agency

Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami

Exec. creative dir.

Alex Bogusky

Creative director

Andrew Keller

Assoc. creative dir.

Rob Reilly

Executive agency producer

David Rolfe”Wake Up With the King”

Copywriter

Bob Cianfrone

Art director

Mark Taylor

Director

Martin Granger/ Moxie Pictures, New York

“What’s that Smell?”

Copywriter

Aramis Isreal

Art directors

Ben James,

Pres Rodriguez

Director

Joe Public,

HSI Productions, Los Angeles