After Justice Holdings acquired Burger King this month, it announced a major rebranding and image change, updating its menus and adding to its management ranks.
The new branding is supposed to be a fresh start. But just as things were looking up, a spot featuring Mary J. Blige outraged consumers with its racial stereotypes.
Most brands can move past controversies like this with a heartfelt apology and a donation to charity. For Burger King, however, this is just the latest is a string of marketing blunders it’s committed over the past four years. Coupled with the recession and the growing success of McDonald’s and Wendy’s, Burger King couldn’t be in more trouble.
2003: Burger King gets new management and reactivates “The King.”
Things had been bad at Burger King for a long time: through the late 1990’s, revenues were declining, market share was down, and the company was tied with Wendy’s for the No. 2 fast-feeder spot. So when then-owner Diageo sold Burger King in 2002 to TPG Capital for $1.5 billion, the company looked at the deal as a clean slate.
In 2003, Burger King’s then-chief marketer Russ Klein hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky as the chain’s ad agency. CP+B, under charismatic chief creative Alex Bogusky, was the hottest, hippest ad agency in the U.S. The stage was set for a comeback.
One of CP+B’s first major decisions to was to resurrect “The King,” a brand icon the company had ditched in the 1980s.
The decision would prove fateful.
2008: Burger King started selling absurdly expensive burgers.
In the U.K., a Burger King started selling a gourmet burger for $190.
“The idea is to change perceptions by pushing the envelope to raise awareness of our ambitions,” Mark Dowding, Burger King’s head of product and innovation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Ad Age. “We have emphasized the quality to create noise and interest in the market.”
The recession was in full swing and the PR stunt made BK look out of touch.
The brand hit its peak between 2004 and 2007 with campaigns like “Subservient Chicken” and “Whopper Freakout”
CP+B revived the brand by bringing back the company’s mascot, “The King,” and reverting to the tried-and-true slogan “Have it your way.”
As an extension of that slogan, the agency created “Subservient Chicken,” a website where consumers could type commands and watch a giant chicken act them out. The website had 20 million hits in the first week.
The “Whopper Freakout” campaign saw Burger King employees telling customers the famous sandwich had been discontinued and recording their reactions. The campaign resulted in double-digit increases in quarterly sales that year.
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The investment makes sense, as Parker has been focused on shaking up the music industry.
While Parker disrupted the music industry in the late 1990’s when he created Napster, he may soon do the same with his latest involvement in Spotify. We reported earlier that Parker said Spotify will finish what Napster started — deliver instant gratification to music fans.
The Los Angeles-based startup StageIt can deliver a different type of gratification. The platform lets artists set up digital concerts and gives them a way to make money without ever having to leave their house.
Two years ago, StageIt founder Evan Lowenstein founded the company based on the idea people that would pay for a unique experience.
Not long ago, Lowenstein came into play for me to demo the service: As a singer himself, he played “Crazy for This Girl” to show how fans purchase tickets to watch him live and use a chat feature to talk to him during the performance.
“You can’t pirate intimacy and you can’t pirate an experience,” Lowenstein said.
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Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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