Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Big Buckin’ Chicken

Back sometime in the mid-1980s, I think, Wendy’s came out with a new, breakthrough offering—the “Hot Topped Potato.” A dieter’s delight, it was promoted with a jingle that endlessly repeated those three musical words. Unfortunately, the phrase stayed in my head for several years, less like manna from heaven and more like the mantra from fast-food hell.

Sad to say, lately my brain is at it again: it has adopted Burger King’s “Big Buckin’ Chicken,” and won’t let go. Which means that rather than repeating a potato phrase that was meant to sell in earnest, my mind has moved into a scarier place, past the freaky King, and Hootie and the chaps on acid, right into this Buckback Mountain gulch.

While certainly funnier and less leaden than the potato ditty, this time, the catch phrase has an artfully placed middle word that also acts as a middle finger to network censors (oh right—I’m sure BK will be shocked to hear it’s not all about the bronco!). I’m always surprised when I hear it.

That the bad-boy phrase is part of a hilariously deadpan ballad with lyrics that are insanely repetitive and inane makes it even stickier: “Big Buckin’ Chicken . . . You are big, and you are chicken . . . . “

OK, I’ll admit that the people at Crispin Porter + Bogusky seem to have a thing for men in big chicken suits. You either get a kick out of this sort of anthropomorphized poultry humor or you don’t. As opposed to the subservient version, stuck away in some dark room with garters, this chicken is placed in the manly world of the corral. (Either way, giving your eight-foot chicken orders, or saddling it up and ridin’ it, are, in the context of food, equally, how you say, unappetizing.)

But it works. It makes the brand seem clever and culturally relevant, and in a weird way, even honest, without trying to make any healthy or good-for-you claims. Meant to appeal to men who view chicken as a vegetable, it’s got cheese and bacon and “tender crisps.” To underscore its unapologetic heft, after the cowboy drama, there’s a dissolve to the food, and the sandwich itself comes out buckin’.

The package fits neatly into the zeitgeist: with the Brokeback thing, we’re taking a second look at the sweeping plains and cowboy culture; in the phraseology area, we now have Big Baby Davis of LSU in the NCAA Final Four. There’s something about any phrase with double B’s that’s funny. (Big honkin’ chicken simply wouldn’t have cut it.)

Neither would a spot shot for real riders and clear skies. I love the fact that the film is so jumpy and home movie-ish, and that the skies do seem cloudy and gray. It would be unbelievably stupid and annoying to watch this flannel-shirted guy in jeans and a cowboy hat riding another guy in a chicken suit in real time in the noonday sun. We could never get over the weird eye, the crown and the fact that this chicken is upright. Instead, through the magic of jerky, grainy, distressed, 8mm film, we get to see the sweep, the mastery, the misery, the tears and the feathers fly, until the guy dismounts and the chicken chases him. At this point, the singer turns to the spoken word, and gravely intones, “Buckin’ chicken!” The announcer adds, “The only way to beat it is to eat it,” but we’ll just let that part go.

Whatever—now I have the idea of chicken and Burger King engraved in my head, and I can’t let go. Big Buckin’ Chicken—I wish I could quit you.

Burger King

Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami

Chief Executive Officer:
Alex Bogusky

Executive Creative Director:
Andrew Keller

Creative Director:
Rob Reilly

Art Director:
Dave Swartz

Jim Houck

Executive Agency Producer:
Rupert Samuel

Bryan Buckley/Hungry Man