Why Burger King’s ‘Burning Stores’ Are the Perfect Print Ads for the Social Media Age

David campaign wins Cannes Grand Prix in Print

Headshot of Tim Nudd

CANNES, France—Print advertising may be old-school media, but the best print ads have a very interactive relationship with audiences nonetheless.

That was the message from Fran Luckin, chief creative officer of Grey Africa, to the Print & Publishing jury that she led this week at the Cannes Lions festival. And it’s a philosophy embodied perfectly in Burger King’s “Burning Stores” campaign, which the Print jury honored tonight with the Grand Prix.

“When I briefed the jury at the beginning, I told them I was looking for ‘classic new,'” Luckin said. “Pieces that evoke everything that is great about classic print, images that leap off the page, the distilling of a complicated message into one powerful moment. What is that piece of work that achieves that—and yet has also clearly been created within our modern, hyperconnected age?”

“Burning Stores,” created by ad agency David Miami, achieved that, she said. The series of ads showed actual photos of Burger King stores on fire, with firefighters responding to the scene. All the elements of classic print are there—the striking image, the simple headline (“Flame grilled since 1954”), the immediate a-ha moment in the reader.

But it’s also very modern work in the way it shows a brand at its worst moment, warts and all, which is something brands need to embrace online if they want to truly connect with audiences, Luckin said.

“It’s a very powerful image, a very clear message,” she said. “But I think it could only have been created within the social-media age. We’ve got a brand being brave enough to be authentic. It’s a move away from having every single piece of print communication be so carefully crafted and put out there as an official announcement. There’s a sense here of being more playful, more authentic, a sense that you can be a little bit more edgy in your communication.”

Acknowledging one’s flaws, and poking fun at oneself, is a smart strategy in social media, where authenticity is prized above all else. These print ads essentially took that same approach.

“I once heard a Coca-Cola executive use the work ‘flawsome,’ which I loved,” said Luckin. “In the social media age, where people can find out information about your brand quite easily, you have to be a little bit more real. You embrace your imperfections. You have more of a sense of humor about your corporate image. [Burger King] is a brand that’s brave enough to stick its tongue in its cheek and be a little bit young again.”

Luckin also cited this Forbes campaign, as well as Heinz ketchup’s Mad Men ads—both of which won gold tonight—as examples of print work that engages with the outside world.

“Some print is very beautifully crafted but it almost has a sense of being a little bit hermetically sealed and self-referential,” she said. “Other work is created in a context, created to spark a debate, created to spark thought. It’s created to circulate and interact with the world, to comment on it, and to incite commentary or change.”

The Grand Prix win is perfectly timed for Burger King, which is being celebrated as Creative Marketer of the Year at Cannes this year. Look for our video interview on Tuesday with BK’s global brand chief, Fernando Machado.

See all the U.S. Lion winners from the five categories honored at Monday’s award show here.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.