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Monday, June 28, 2004

WSJ.com - Burger King Seeks Some Web Heat

WSJ.com - Burger King Seeks Some Web Heat
Burger King Seeks Some Web Heat

Interactive Site Is Created
To Promote Chicken Items
To Young-Adult Market
By BRIAN STEINBERG and SUZANNE VRANICA
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 15, 2004; Page B3

MIAMI -- Burger King has come up with a feather-brained Internet scheme to get young adults talking about its chicken offerings -- and in the process, it's showing how big-name advertisers are latching on to underground marketing methods to get the job done.

Web surfers who have a yen to make a human being in a chicken suit dance, jump, watch TV or do pushups now have their chance, thanks to a Burger King Web site, www.subservientchicken.com. In a scenario that some may feel is disturbing, the bird appeals to voyeuristic tendencies and appears to interact with Web surfers through what seems to be a Web-cam window.

Surfers can also try to take advantage of the Internet's anonymity and command the chicken to perform obscene gestures, although with little effect. The chicken responds to lewd orders with a wagging wing, as if to say, "No, no, no."

After hailing its fare as "fire grilled" in recent months, Burger King has revived one of its most famous slogans: "Have It Your Way." A chicken that responds to hundreds of commands fits in quite well with Burger King's new approach.

The move signals the extreme creative lengths to which marketers will go to reach fickle audiences who are spending less time in front of the television and more time browsing the Web and playing videogames. American Express's attention-getting "Webisode" -- a four-minute online commercial featuring comedian Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman -- has sparked much buzz.


The enigmatic Subservient Chicken is an interactive Web promotion for Burger King's chicken menu and its "Have It Your Way" slogan.


Marketers engaging in these sorts of techniques may have to give up the one thing they can always exert -- control. "You don't know what is going to stick, and what's not going to stick. The smart companies are able to hit a home run more often than they strike out," says Joseph Jaffe, founder and president of Jaffe LLC, a Westport, Conn., new-media consultancy. "For the most part, it is three parts art, and one part science."

The Web effort comes amid a series of new marketing moves designed by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a hot Miami ad agency known for embracing maverick promotional methods that tend to avoid traditional ad vehicles. Burger King represents a challenge, as it is known as one of Madison Avenue's most fickle clients. The company shifted the creative duties on its $358.6 million account to Crispin from WPP Group's Young & Rubicam in January.

Designed by Crispin, the Web promotion represents a classic example of viral marketing -- promotions that catch on via word-of-mouth rather than a flashy ad campaign on a more established medium such as TV, radio or a magazine.

"The intent here is to speak specifically to young adults in their 20s and 30s. These are people that are very Internet savvy," says Blake Lewis, a spokesman for Burger King, which is controlled by Texas Pacific Group. "They are very active. They may not mirror a lot of the traditional TV, newspaper or radio consumption patterns that older adults have come to adopt."

The subservientchicken.com Web site launched the evening of April 7, Mr. Lewis says, and only 20 people were told about it -- all friends of people who worked at the ad agency. Some TV ads have flashed the Web address. Burger King says the site has received 15 million to 20 million hits. According to the agency, Web surfers have spent an average of six minutes exploring the fowl game.

Any excitement for Burger King couldn't come soon enough. The burger baron is under pressure to turn around a sales slump. In 2003, U.S. sales dropped to $7.9 billion from $8.3 billion a year earlier, according to estimates provided by Technomic, a Chicago food-service consulting firm.

Meanwhile, McDonald's increased its sales in 2003 to $22.1 billion from $20.3 billion while Wendy's Internationalsaw its sales jump to $7.4 billion in 2003 from $6.8 billion, according to Technomic. "Wendy's is quickly catching up to Burger King," says Dennis Lombardi, a Technomic executive vice president. "If BK doesn't turn the trend around, they will be No. 3 in terms of sales."

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