The Return of the King
Burger King is one again named Client of the Year.

It was a dastardly plan, even by practical joke standards: take the centerpiece of Burger King’s brand, the Whopper, away for a day and film hungry customers’ reactions via a hidden camera. Some of the patrons were incredulous and others laughed, while the rest were just plain furious. “I hate Wendy’s!” yells one irate customer after he is handed a Wendy’s burger as a substitute. “Get me a Whopper!” In another scene, a woman at the drive-thru window is told that the Whopper has been discontinued. “You cannot be serious!” she says, visibly annoyed. “I want to speak to your manager!” We spoke with Brian Gies, vice president of marketing impact for Burger King, about the “Whopper Freakout” and Simpsons campaigns that won it Client of the Year honors for the second time in three years.

Many judges commented that it takes a daring client to go along with an idea like “Whopper Freakout.” How did Crispin initially approach you with the idea?

We had a dedicated window on our calendar in December and January that was going to be focused on our Whopper, and it was actually the 50th anniversary of our flagship product. So the brief centered around Whopper superiority. We knew we wanted to capitalize on it somehow, but we certainly didn’t want to go the route of 50 candles on a cake and slapping ourselves on the back.

We’ve long had the competitive claim for the Whopper being America’s preferred burger, but even that felt too much like the voice of the company saying our products are better than yours. We wanted to stay away from that and be credible to the consumer as much as we could. So Crispin took that challenge and came back to us by presenting maybe a dozen or more campaigns, it was a really robust effort that they had undertaken to accomplish Whopper superiority. And I have to say we immediately gravitated toward the Whopper deprivation approach.

It was risky, but we do view ourselves as an edgier and more provocative brand. It takes more for us to accomplish something that’s truly attention-getting in this competitive landscape. So we’ve embraced an edgier and riskier profile for probably the past five years now.

Did it take any convincing to go along with the project?

From the get-go we really liked the idea, but my reservations stemmed from the execution of it and making sure that what we were going to get on film was going to make for compelling television. So it involved sitting down with Alex [Bogusky] and Rob [Reilly] at Crispin and immersing myself in this documentary-style of production. We had never done it before, but Crispin had plenty of experience with this kind of hidden camera-style television.

But almost immediately, there was a kind of compelling pull by the viewership out there of wanting to know what was up and laughing at it at the same time. So it was an advertiser’s dream in delivering attention-getting creative that had people smiling from the get-go. It became something that they really wanted to know more about, and we were fortunate that we captured so much great film. We had planned this eight-minute, long-form video content to be out there, and the feedback we were getting not only from the spots but whopperfreakout.com was amazing—people loved it and were drawn toward it.

And the campaign continued with a bunch of very humorous parodies made by consumers around the US copying the theme of the Whopper campaign, which was flattering. Like there were high-school students out there borrowing the concept with ideas like taking away their favorite cookie from the cafeteria and filming their own videos. So it delivered what we wanted it to for the Whopper, and it also delivered the social currency that we were looking for as well.

How would you describe your audience?

I think it’s the fast food user who appreciates indulgence and visits the category very frequently. It tends to be 18-to-24 year old and male—our personality happens to be very masculine—but you’d be surprised, there are a lot of females in that group as well. They also appreciate our “Have it your way” promise that delivers to an individual versus billions and billions. So that individuality speaks to them and differentiates our customer. And I also think our cooking platform with flame broiling is something that resonates with our consumer group versus our competitors.

Talk about the Simpsons campaign. Was this a natural tie-in for you?

What a lot of people don’t know is that we’ve done many promotions with The Simpsons franchise—we’ve executed maybe 5+ promotions over the past few years and maybe more if you count international. The Simpsons has always worked with us and intersected very tightly with our consumer base. So it was a proven property for us, and when it went to the big screen, it became a natural next step for us in our partnership with Gracie Films and 20th Century Fox.

Your campaigns seem to have a multi-layered approach. Is this intentional?

The way we plan our marketing calendar, we do stay focused on a primary tactic for four-to-six weeks. Just because of the velocity and the momentum we’ve had, it looks like a lot of activity and comes across as feeling layered, which is certainly a positive to us. We want to be a part of pop culture, and we like to experiment by creating it as well, and we’re fortunate about being successful with it.

In terms of media platforms, it’s very important for us to be where our consumers’ eyeballs are. For that reason, we’ve been very progressive with our media planning over the past several years and diversifying where that content appears.

With the Client of the Year award, do you believe that good creative is good for business?

We’re flattered to win “Client of the Year,” but we as a client are not award-focused. Our objective is to develop work and content and promotional partnerships that grow our business.

We are in our 17th consecutive quarter of positive comparable sales, which is no small feat in this category, so we’re very pleased with our business performance. We just completed a very successful global convention in Orlando, which is the reason I couldn’t be at the One Show. But I’m just delighted to report that we’ve got a ton of great stuff in our pipeline that we’re looking forward to delivering. So we’re very excited with how the business has performed and equally so about where we’re going.

| More