BK’s “SUBSERVIENT CHICKEN”
Burger King is a brand that the general public is more than well aware of. Founded in Miami in 1954, they now have locations in all 50 states and in 73 countries around the World (Burger King, online.) Being in competition with other well known fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s, Burger King has been able to hold their own in the burger department with their popular sandwich, the Whopper. However, Burger King was continually behind in sales of chicken sandwiches in comparison with their competitors. In order to combat this lack of sales and to sell more chicken sandwiches, Burger King took an unusual approach. The familiar fast food company launched a social media campaign headed by none other than a chicken dressed in garters, that would seemingly complete any request that was asked of him, in “real time.” Taking such an unusual and humorous approach was bold, but would it help Burger King sell more chicken sandwiches?
In 2004, the same year that the subservient chicken campaign was born, Burger King was considered to be number 2 in terms of burgers, trailing behind other popular fast food restaurant McDonald’s. At the same time, BK’s (Burger King’s’ shorter moniker) image was starting to suffer, or at the very least was doing a poor job of recruiting new or returning customers. Their image was deteriorating, with customer complaints of uncleanliness and sloppy food. (USA Today, online) Due to their decline in popularity, BK had to close hundreds of stores, and desperately needed to revamp their image to their consumers. “Consumer perception of the brand is lousy. Many consumers are confused by its schizophrenic marketing. That’s not to mention how disappointed others are with its food.” (USA Today, online) Burger King then went to work on increasing the quality of their food, the cleanliness of their establishments, and a new and improved marketing strategy.
Desperate to improve their image and to increase their sales of chicken, Burger King developed and created their new and improved TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. The fast food chain also created and released their chicken big king sandwich, which is Burger King’s version of a chicken Big Mac. Known primarily for their hamburgers, Burger King was trying to come up with a creative, effective and inventive way to market and sell their new image and sandwiches.
The company also decided to reinstate their old company slogan of “‘Have it your way”, and transferred that idea through to their new marketing strategy, extending to the “Subservient Chicken” campaign. Andrew Keller, creative director at Burger King’s lead agency explains, “A web campaign, with its guaranteed interactivity, unlike print or T.V., was a logical place to explore the “Have it your way” strategy.” In a sense, BK and CP + B were trying to advertise online what they were also practicing in store, again attempting to strengthen and refurbish their brand image. (Adweek, online)
Burger King’s original chicken sandwich had lackluster sales and reviews from consumers. Having already been released onto the market, the TenderCrisp chicken sandwich was getting positive reviews from the public. Wanting to increase their market share and popularity, Burger King paired up with Crispin Porter + Bogusky (also referred to as CP + B) to oversee their “Subservient Chicken” campaign. Using market segmentation, they were able to understand who their target demographic was, and were therefore able to formulate an effective marketing strategy. According to Andrew Keller, Burger King’s creative director at Burger King’s ad agency, the campaign was aimed toward males, who were anywhere from 18 to 45 years of age, and would be spending a lot of time on the internet (Adweek, online). Even though the age range tops out all the way at 45, Burger King was still making an effort to appeal to a younger and more modern audience.
This younger audience inspired Burger King to advertise in a way that would be considered culturally hip and humorous. Targeting this particular type of younger demographic, Burger King and CP + B decided to create a media campaign that was off the wall, interactive, entertaining, and inviting to those who spend time online. ( USA Today, online)
CHICKEN WIKI (Command list)
Subservient Chicken (Mess with the chicken)
On April 8th of 2005, Burger King launched their new web campaign. Part of the marketing and advertising strategy for the “Subservient Chicken” campaign was to use the accessibility and power of the internet at the time. Burger King started to send emails out to consumers, inviting them to check out the “Subservient Chicken”. Users were able to log onto the website and command the chicken to do multiple actions. BK used what would be considered a beta test at launch to get feedback from the public. Examples of feedback would include something along the lines of, “I told the chicken to jump on the couch and he didn’t”. BK was consistently updating the site with command scripts. The website was simple. BK designed a black background website with a video box and chat box. When viewers would follow the link, they would be taken to a website. The headline on “Subservient Chicken” website reads: “Chicken redemption. He rose to fame. He fell from grace. The subservient chicken is back and now he’s doing it his way. Hello chicken big king.” In the website header, where it says “He rose to fame. He fell from grace.”, it shows the public Burger King’s humor in regards to both the advertisement and the company as a whole. The ad campaign was not just about creating and marketing a better chicken sandwich, but a better image as well. This was easily a more interesting and amusing way of advertising chicken sandwiches. Viewers would then have access to a video where they would see an actor dressed up in an elaborate chicken costume, being berated and taken advantage of in various situations. The short video also shows the “Subservient Chicken” trying to redeem himself and put himself back together, much like Burger King was trying to do in real life. Online viewers could also join in on the fun of bullying the “Subservient Chicken” again by typing in various commands, and then being able to watch the chicken obey. Wanting the campaign to be fun and interactive, the creators pre-filmed the actor performing multiple commands. By the end, the “Subservient Chicken” was capable of completing over 300 commands. He was capable of completing everything from moonwalking, headbanging, the robot, doing yoga, and even dying.
However, creating an online ad campaign with such a large amount of interaction was also sure to bring about participants that might want to request the subservient chicken commit bad or inappropriate acts. BK and CP + B took this into consideration before the release of their campaign. Wanting to preserve their hip, new image, those involved in the campaign did anticipatory damage control. To achieve this, they also recorded a pre-filmed response for such commands where the chicken would simply walk up to the webcam and shake his head and finger “no”. This allowed targeted internet users and Burger King consumers to still get their kicks, and to keep the interactive theme of the ad, at the same time preserving and upkeeping their new brand image.
As previously stated, in 2004 McDonald’s was literally killing BK. In order to get the most out of their “Subservient Chicken” campaign and to increase their sales and image, Burger King gave the task of completing the company’s turnaround plan to Brad Blum, Burger King’s under freshman CEO. Brad Blum was responsible for reviving the company. Blum, was the man for the job. He was responsible for turning out 33 quarters of increased sales for The Olive Garden restaurant food chain. He explains his strategy for Burger King, “Look for an onslaught of new products. Look for off-the-wall-marketing, focus inside the store and not on T.V. that will nudge consumers to think of Burger King as culturally cool. And look for Burger King to give Ronald McDonald heartburn.” (USA Today, online)
Sales were slowly rising, and the company was getting back on its feet, due in part to the success of the “Subservient Chicken” campaign. Through their off-the-wall marketing approach and attempt to become culturally cool, the BK brand was back. The “Subservient Chicken” campaign was a huge success with the public. This social media campaign is arguably one of the first cases of a successful marketing campaign on the web. This was the first marketing campaign of its kind. Matt Vescovo, one of the judges that who voted for the campaign in the Viral Awards shares, “It was so amazingly different, and such a good use of the technology.” (Adweek, online)
By the time of the actual launch of the website, users were hooked. The average viewer spent six to seven minutes on average on the site every time that they logged on. The very first day of the launch, the site recorded a whopping one million hits. One week after launch, a whopping 20 million hits. “After one year the site had had approximately 14 million visitors and 396 million hits.”(Sunset, online) These numbers show that BK had finally begun to break the negative sales trend that had crippled their business for 21 months. The ‘Subservient Chicken’ campaign was also successful in increasing their market share, and did in fact help sell their new chicken sandwich. Consequently, only one month after the campaign was underway, BK reported that their TenderCrisp sales had increased by 9%. (Adweek, online)
Burger King took a risk by attempting a market strategy that was at the time innovative and original, and it ended up paying off. To this day, if you visit the McDonald’s website and compare it to BK’s, you’ll be able to see the time and effort that BK uses to market it’s company in an engaging and “fresh” way in comparison to its number one competitor. To this day, Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken” is a beloved internet gem, that is fondly remembered for its inventive and creative campaign. In 2014, the tenth anniversary of the ‘Subservient Chicken’ campaign was honored. Recent developments in social media technology allowed internet users to tweet about the ‘Subservient Chicken’, tweeting about and to Burger King using the hashtag #chickenredemption. The fact that Burger King’s famous campaign is still mentioned ten years after its release alone shows how effective this marketing campaign was.
The main factor as to why this type of marketing was successful, was the sense of humor and the user interactivity. The “Subservient Chicken” campaign was simple, cost little money comparatively, and the users had to do very little to be entertained. Using minimal work for getting the chicken to do exactly what you want increased accessibility and interest, as the user was able to easily participate. The idea was genius. Instead of watching an ad on the television, or receiving a coupon in the Sunday paper, the public was able to “have it their way”, extending their new slogan and approach to the public in a way that was interesting, simplistic, and fun.
Burger King was able to piggyback and monopolize off of the success of their “Subservient Chicken” ad for multiple follow up campaigns. Their first follow up included the introduction of the Spicy TenderCrisp, and another hilarious campaign, “Chicken fight”. This campaign featured two people, again dressed in chicken outfits, with animosity for each other. BK presented these ads like a featured boxing match on PayPerView. “Spicy” vs. “TC” (TenderCrisp) actually aired on DirecTV on November 5th, and was also viewable online. A stadium is packed full of people with two announcers Carlos Del Valle and Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Center stage is a basically a wrestling cage match made out of wire that looks like a giant chicken coop. Punches are thrown, kicks are made, and ultimately TC wins. Though the website was taken down in January, you can still view the extremely cheesy yet extremely entertaining twelve minute fight on YouTube. Although this was done with good intention and got a decent amount of views, BK could have used the budgeted money for advertising in a much more efficient way. Riding the hype of the “Subservient Chicken” campaign was an interesting approach. Sales figures ultimately improved, and that’s what matters. However, cost effective marketing to a new fresh way that was more interactive would have been a better approach. An example of such would be an online live stream, where users could interview the chickens before the fight, or have a chicken debate online, repeating the interactivity of the “Subservient Chicken” campaign.
Burger King was able to take advantage of a new approach in the business of marketing, that was never before attempted successfully, and it paid off in a huge way. Target marketing young adults with advertisements for a website in a time where the internet was a new and cool thing was perfect. BK was able to reshape how companies interact with the online community in a fun, light hearted way, that was most importantly a success. Burger King followed up the original campaign, and continued to have a relevant presence online by introducing hashtags, web series, TV broadcasted chicken fights, and maintain a current up-to-date website that engages consumers. They stayed brand true the whole way through. Subservience is an extreme example of “Having it your way”, but brand true and effective nonetheless.
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