Whatever your opinion of the relationship between Burger King and Crispin Porter + Bogusky—and their abrupt break-up late last week—it’s hard to deny that their work together helped usher in a new era of advertising. From the iconic Subservient Chicken campaign of 2005 to the surreal Adult Swim/frat-boy humor of day-to-day BK advertising, CP+B brought bizarreness and balls-out experimentation into mainstream marketing. Unfortunately, the approach never quite proved its worth, as BK continued to drift further behind McDonald’s in market share and revenue growth. A split was inevitable, but a bit regrettable. Today, AdFreak celebrates seven years of CP+B and Burger King with a list of the 15 campaigns we’re still talking about, for better or worse. The King is dead. Long live the King.
In 2004, CP+B put Burger King back on the cultural map by reincarnating its 30-year-old King character as a silent, creepy home invader in an oversized plastic mask. But hey, he brought you free food, so how bad could he be?
Here’s a perfect example of the off-kilter copywriting that made even the most banal BK spots entertaining. Also, quite often, annoying.
The strained relationship between Whopper Jr. and his dad was often the focus of CP+B’s TV spots for the BK Value Menu. While this could have made for silly punch-line-driven dreck, the actual ad series was strangely dark and, in some bizarre way, kinda real.
A great ad makes you feel like it’s part of a bigger story, one you want to see the rest of. And this is a great ad. However, mental-health organizations didn’t necessarily agree. Such controversy was almost as much a hallmark of CP+B’s Burger King work as the King himself.
Using hidden cameras to capture awkward real-life moments is a favorite pastime for CP+B, and Whopper Freakout was one of the better ones. Customers were told BK was out of Whoppers. They freaked out.
One of CP+B’s first missions for Burger King was to gobble up McDonald’s market share as a go-to place for breakfast. (See No. 15, “Wake Up With The King.”) Six years later, they were still plugging away, this time with an admirably blatant nod to their competitor’s success.
Throughout its relationship with Burger King, CP+B specialized in finding ways to take its marketing beyond ads and into the real world. One of the more simple and brilliant ideas was the creation of “Flame,” a spray-on cologne that smells like “the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat.”
Lots of the BK work in recent years left you wondering, “What were they thinking?” But few of the head-scratchers can match this “I Like Square Butts” video, created with Sir Mix-A-Lot to promote … kids meals. As was surely expected, parental watchdog groups were not cool with it.
No King. No controversy. Just CP+B weirdness at its hilarious best.
Few spots prove just how much CP+B can get away with as “Eat Like Snake,” which masqueraded as an Asian ad at a time when only foreign work could possibly be this crazy. It’s also a great example of what I call BK’s “unapologetic advertising,” which embraced the complete disgustingness of what they were selling.
Movie tie-ins were a common thread for CP+B and Burger King, as they are for many fast-food chains. But the best was surely BK’s partnership with The Simpsons movie launch. In addition to product and ad involvement, CP+B’s “Simpsonize Me” app was used 45 million times to create Simpsons-style avatars out of users’ photos.
Marketers have spent years creating buzz-building Facebook apps and promotions. But CP+B turned the idea on its head with Whopper Sacrifice, which was intentionally created to bend (if not break) the rules of Facebook. Users were offered a free Whopper if they unfriended 10 people. When it was inevitably put on hold by Facebook, CP+B immediately declared that the campaign itself had been “sacrificed”—guaranteeing tons more publicity for being “shut down by the Man.”
It’s funny to think this ad was considered “racy” when it debuted. (Our collective standards shifted just a few months later, when Carl’s Jr. kicked off its burger-porn ad series with Paris Hilton’s steamy car wash.) Looking back on it now, I just flat-out love this ad. The writing is clever, the tune is catchy, Darius Rucker is a spot-on casting choice, and it’s just all-around fun. We didn’t often get to see CP+B’s theatrical side, but this spot makes me wish we had.
I almost hate to list this effort so high in our list, because I’ve just never been a fan. But there’s no denying Subservient Chicken remains one of the most-discussed marketing efforts of the past decade. It was a pretty simple app (by today’s standards) that let you give orders to a giant, terrifying chicken on a webcam. But in the pre-app world of 2005—where advertisers were still struggling to “get” the potential of the Web—this quirky idea was downright revolutionary.
There are so many CP+B projects for BK that we could feature as the most memorable, but I’ve got to give it to Whopper Virgins. This campaign had it all: excessive budgets, questionable results, copious controversy and a diabolically clever blending of the real and digital worlds. It was an age-old premise, the consumer taste test, transplanted to the hinterlands of the Earth, where foreigners were asked to try their first burgers. It sparked an international debate over Western culture, consumer imperialism, the exportation of obesity and all sorts of other heady issues you simply wouldn’t get from any other burger ad.
So, in the end, was CP+B good for Burger King? Financially, no. The chain struggled to keep pace with McDonald’s every year of its tenure with CP+B, and the recession was brutal, in part because BK (and its agency) just couldn’t figure out how to leverage its value offerings.
But CP+B still achieved what it was philosophically hired to do: Make Burger King culturally relevant. And along the way, they did the same for advertising.