Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Have it Your Way: Burger King's Provocative Social Media Campaign

Whopper Virgins. Whopper Sacrifice. Subservient Chicken. Flame by BK. Made by You.

What do these scandalously intriguing names have in common? They are all social media campaigns launched in the past year by Burger King.

Since Burger King first opened its doors in 1954 in suburban Miami, the chain has grown to serve 11.4 million customers per day. But it didn’t withstand six decades using only one ad strategy. In fact, Burger King’s latest battle cry utilizes one of the most notable social media campaigns of the year.
Fast food restaurants like Burger King are notoriously famous for brand recognition. On a recent road trip, I surprised myself by spotting the golden arches of McDonalds, the purple outline of Taco Bell, and Cracker Barrel’s country brown logo miles away when their towering signs looked like tiny ants orbiting the horizon. These restaurants are American staples, littering highways and the outskirts of towns, bustling airports, and mall food courts. And their near-vintage jingles have become international Anthems: Hold the pickles hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us…. For companies—and products—that have maintained a steady status since before I was born, their advertising is surprisingly relevant, continually evolving.

Take Burger King’s web presence on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Whopper Sacrifice
The most recent campaign, designed by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is a Facebook application called Whopper Sacrifice. The app rewards people with a coupon for a whopper, BK’s signature burger, if they cut cyber ties with 10 of their Facebook friends. “It’s asking the question of which love is bigger, your love for your friends or your love for the whopper,” said Jeff Benjamin, executive interactive creative director at Crispin. Benjamin, friend to 736 on Facebook, also boasts that the app helps with the popular too-many-friend scenario.

Although the app received plenty of attention and offered tens of thousands of whopper coupons, Facebook deemed mass-unfriending in opposition of their plans for the social media site. The 233,906 friends removed by 82,771 users in one week led Facebook to pull the plug on BK’s Whopper Sacrifice. “The friend removal is another kind of socializing,” Benjamin argued. “At first you think it’s antisocial, but it’s a social device. Now we finally have something to talk about.”

The short-lived app wasn’t a failure. BK proved their point: 82,771 Facebook users love whoppers more than their friends.

Whooper Virgin
Although equally effective, this campaign isn’t quite as provocative as Burger King’s Whopper Virgin, a series of videos (on both the BK website and YouTube) that introduce fast food to people in remote locations, also known as whopper virgins. The concept came under fire from many critics, but BK was quick to point out that indigenous people who are unexposed to advertising can offer the purest, most unadulterated taste test: Whopper or Big Mac?

Made By You
Another way Burger King engages its customers socially is through the campaign, Made By You—essentially a call for customers to submit user-created content promoting BK. Among the videos is a battle between The King and Ronald McDonald and a carful of people wearing a King mask in a McDonalds drive through.

Subservient Chicken
Subservient Chicken (found along with Made By You on the BK website) shows a video of a king-sized chicken and allows the user to type in a command for the chicken to do. The subservient chicken immediately caries out the task. This may seem like a mindless game, but it drives would be customers to their website, equalling more bang for their buck. Frankly, I’m surprised they’ve not turned it into an iPhone app.

Flame by BK
Ever had someone tell you that you smell like a particular food? Burger King thinks it’s not all that bad. That’s why they launched Flame by BK. “The Whopper sandwich is America’s favorite burger,” the ad reads. “Flame by BK captures the essence of that love and gives it to you. Behold the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat.” Already sold out, the scent goes for $3.99.

The Verdict
Using social media, Burger King plays up a comical edge to engage consumers. The very core of the message is empowerment and choice, therefore each media outlet empowers the customer or gives them a choice. Whopper Sacrifice gives the Facebook user a choice: What do you love more? Whopper or Friends? Whopper Virgin empowers indigenous people to settle America’s great debate: Whopper or Big Mac? Made By You empowers users to create their own content. Subservient Chicken lets viewers choose what action the chicken will perform. And Flame by BK…lets just call that empowering customers to smell like broiled beef.

Even if BK's under fire for disturbing indigenous folks by offering them a couple of free hamburgers, or taking heat from Facebook for encouraging users to not be so friendly, they are getting consumers to talk about their product. Talk quickly turns into cash when it involves food (or flame broiled perfume).

Burger King’s campaigns are effective because they engage the viewer, create interactivity, and have memorable content. But the biggest success comes from radiating a clear message from with in the company’s core, empower and choose—Have it your way.


  1. This is a great roundup of BK social media efforts. I had no idea they were so "with it." (And who knew BK originated in Miami?)

    I hope anthropologists take a closer look at the Whopper Virgin promotion. it seems like there would be some interesting knowledge to glean there. And I wonder how this marketing stunt impacted indigenous groups of people? Possibly more than BK took into account.

  2. I used to be on Facebook 24/7 and I never came across Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice.” Then again I'm not a big fan of Burger King. Now, if Chick-fil-A offered this deal then, yes, I probably would have taken it into consideration. After all, Chick-fil-A isn’t cheap.

    Burger King is pretty creative when it comes to advertising and promoting their sandwiches. Do I find anything wrong with the “Whopper Sacrifice”? No, not really. They’re just another fast food chain trying to get ahead of the game. I actually applaud them for thinking outside of the box.

    I wonder how many Facebook users sent friend requests to those they deleted for the coupon.

  3. I thought this was a great post, although this is the first I have heard of the company's social media efforts. I guess none of my Facebook friends are Burger King fans.

    I was particularly interested in the Whopper Sacrifice, and Facebook's subsequent yanking of the application when the friend count started heading south. I would have liked to have overheard the phone conversation between the Facebook executive and the Burger King executive on that one!

    What it boils down to for me is this. Burger King can do anything they want to as long as they don't show that creepy plastic Burger King character any more. You know the one I'm talking about: the actual burger king. As long as he stays retired, I'm good with the rest of it.

  4. I think that Burger King's social media campaign is both refreshing and innovative. I personally like the Whopper Sacrifice; I have a ton of "friends" on Facebook that I never contact. I would have gladly sacrificed a few of those friends for a Whopper. I guess it depends how large a role you stomach plays in your decision.

    Though I like the analysis that asserts the campaign is about empowerment. However, I wonder how much power the Whopper Virgin actually gives their consumer. In fact, I think that this ad could be easily interpreted as an apathetic view toward world hunger. In my mind, it is in bad taste. However, the other aspects of the campaign are sound and I will definitely seek out that chicken.

  5. I'm not sure the exact date when it happened - but I am guessing it has been within the last ten years – that Burger King started infusing their marketing with this quirky sensibility. It has certainly been effective because it has not only helped sell Whoppers but this unique brand of insanity has worked itself into their menu.

    For instance, if you go to McDonald's or Wendy's or Chick-Fil-A and order chicken nuggets, you get something, well...nugget-shaped. At Burger King, the chicken parts are shaped like little crowns.

    Within the last two months, I visited a Burger King in North Carolina and ordered something called “Funnel Cake Sticks.” Fried dough, shaped like French Fries, covered in powder sugar, with a side of gooey dippin' sugar! I'm pretty sure you can't get those at McDonald's.

    One of my absolute favorite Burger King marketing schemes happened back in 2006. That autumn, Microsoft released the Xbox 360. To accompany the console's release, Burger King offered three different 360 games for $3.99 a piece.

    The first was called “Sneak King” where the player controlled the King. He would walk around town, stealthily, sneaking up behind people and present them with BK food. The closer you got to the person, the more points you would get. If you didn't reach the people in time, they would pass out from hunger. If you've never seen this, check out this YouTube video, it's insane.

    The second was called “Pocketbike Racer.” It was essentially Mario Kart on tiny motorcycles. Of course, instead of playing with Mario and Donkey Kong, players controlled their favorite BK characters including Brooke Burke, the Subserviant Chicken, and a man dressed up as a giant Whopper.

    The third was called “Big Bumpin'.” The game pitted players against each other in bumper cars. You could bump people into fire pits, wreck their cars with saws and knock them completely off the screen.

    What's important with the last two – particularly in the social media realm – was that it allowed players to play against each other through Xbox Live as well as earn achievements that could be incorporated into a player's profile or blog.

    This, of course, brings up a whole new question of how video games fit into the realm of social media... I'll save that for another day.