I”m home in Burlington, Vermont for a few days to see the family and attend a wedding. But if you know me, you know I can’t go two hours, let alone two days without my mind constantly dissecting some aspect of the food industry.

For this post I want to discuss fast food commercials. While I am a food lover and connoisseur, I also work in the marketing industry, and have a keen interest in how companies sell themselves and their products.

Fast food commercials have been getting edgier and edgier in recent years. When you are selling essentially the same thing as your competitors (burgers and fries) you need to generate some kind of buzz for your brand name. Burger King has been on the cutting edge of this strategy, thanks largely to the innovative commercials of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. These are the guys who came up with the creepy yet lovable BK King character.

Yes I know these commercials aren’t exactly “new”, but the nice thing about having a brand new blog is there are no limits on what I can write. If I want to write about something from 3 years ago, dammit I will. So deal with it suckers.

My introduction to this character came in the form of Burger King’s “Wake up with the King” commercial. In this memorable spot, a man wakes up, much to his surprise, in bed next to the BK King. The man is then handed the new double croissanwich, which, according to the announcer, contains “egg and meat and cheese….and meat and cheese.”

After a brief moment of hesitation, the man decides to enjoy a delicious breakfast sandwich in bed rather than formally pursue date rape and sodomy charges against the BK King.

When this commercial was first released, people were extremely creeped out by the BK King. But it didn’t matter. People were TALKING about the ads. Sometimes interesting commercials get talked about, but viewers can’t remember what product the ad was for. This was definitely not an issue with the BK King, who is a constant visual reminder of the Burger King corporation.

A more wary company might have bailed on this ad campaign right away. Just do a Google Blog Search for “Burger King” AND Creepy. Yep, 7,338 results. To Burger King’s credit, they stuck with the character and the BK King is not only a staple in many of their ads, but has inspired a video game and become a wildly popular Halloween mask.

sneak-king-thumb.jpg bk-mask.jpg

The BK King is a testament to the benefits of sticking with an identifiable character, even if it is initially disliked. Ronald McDonald, Grimace, the Hamburgler and that whole crew haven’t been relevant since the Reagan Administration. The Ronald McDonald house? Does that even exist anymore? Or are the kids now forced to live under a bridge, keeping warm with a trash can fire Grimace tends throughout the night?

With Ronald McDonald fading from our memory, Burger King saw an opportunity to create an edgy, hip and weird mascot that would make their commercials stand out from their competitors. The BK King quickly took off, putting his previous life of date rape and morning-after breakfasts behind him and moving on to making unexpected appearances during NFL games.

With hundreds more new fast food campaigns sure to come out in the coming weeks and years, I’ll have plenty more ad campaigns to look at. Later this week I’m going to continue my look at other even more bizarre Burger King ads put out by Crispin Porter…some of which were probably weird enough to actually repel customers from going to Burger King.

But one more note on the BK King idea…when you create a character that achieves pop culture status, you often lose control of how it’s image is utilized. If your company can handle losing control over some of your branding and imaging, you can get free buzz out of it. However, you just have to be aware, that with a character like the BK King, images like this will only be the tip of the iceberg:


Have a good evening So Good readers, I’m off to enjoy some fine Vermont microbrews.

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