Burger King on change and communicating experiences

Burger King is leading the way in online marketing having already launched a plethora of successful viral campaigns. However, is the latest King Tasty promotion pushing it too far? Marketing director Sarah Power talks to The Drum.

Leading the charge to plant Burger King’s flag on this virgin virtual territory, Power has helped mastermind several game changing assaults on the public consciousness with Facebook the weapon of choice. A memorable skirmish last year saw the burger chain take a bite of the market after running a “dump a friend” campaign, inviting members to weigh the respective merits of lifelong bonds, childhood sweethearts and inseparable pairs versus the immediate appetising prospect of a free Whopper.

Thousands jumped at the chance to ditch fifty cherished souls and claim their meaty bun and leave former friends with a sour taste in their mouths, tangible proof of the tasty initiatives success at drawing the newly friendless through the fast food eatery’s doors. Power remarked: “It changed the way Facebook was run and amended their policy. We are pushing the boundaries doing things that people aren’t comfortable with to actively change ways of behaving. At Burger King we use social media to create momentum and currency around some of the other activities that we do.”


Central to this approach is a marriage of offline and online worlds, manifested in their latest wheeze dubbed “King Tasty” which again hijacks the ubiquitous social networking platform to present consumers with real world rewards. Up for grabs this time is a selection of personalised T shirts which can be earned – once more through the currency of friendship. Tapping into the boundless branching of individual networks above inert advertising models BK has assigned its fashionable burger wares a value not in pounds and pence but in clicks and views. “It’s not us pushing them, people are putting the brand forward themselves through talking with their friends”, enthuses Power.

This bottom up approach to marketing has untapped the limitless energy of anonymous online soldiers: “We do get a lot of positive feedback on websites and blogs especially amongst our target audience, which is 18-34 year-old males, who will discuss the latest burger. Have you seen it, tasted it? Try this, try that!” recounts Power who has been pushing the “Have it your way” tagline that entices timid patrons to experiment with varying combinations of garnish and pickle to produce customised burgers.

BK has found however, you can’t always have it your own way as far as unregulated user generated content goes, particularly in a brand which evokes powerful emotions in people, be that from salivating fans or those who harbour a beef against burgers.

“The nature of the internet is everyone is free to air their views”, explains Power. “We have hundreds of Facebook pages which we haven’t created, they have been created by consumers. Which is great. It would be very difficult to limit the use of social media but clearly we’ve got to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts when it comes to the legal implications of negative coverage.”

These innovative approaches to new media are borne out of an understanding of the inherent contradictions in life, something Power refers to as ‘tension’. “When we brief our agencies we talk about tensions, ‘I’m feeling hungry but I don’t have the time’ or ‘I don’t expect fast food restaurants to have really good food.’” It is the resolution of these conflicts which has inspired the chain to introduce Aberdeen Angus burgers and adapt its model to perceived consumer need.

Power concludes: “Every year there are more and more ways to talk to customers but I think now what we’re doing is picking out the best bits. It’s less challenging but more strategic, you’ve got to be clever about the bits you do use. So it might be slimming down the number of press titles that you use and opening up other websites, the strategy is value for money and that then informs the advertising strategy we employ.” Perhaps then the global burger purveyor really can have it its way.

Sarah Power, marketing director of Burger King was a judge at The Drum Marketing Awards. To book tickets for the awards or to see the full video interview visit The Drum Marketing Awards' website.

Burger King led the way in the trend to upgrade digital’s importance in the marketing mix, doubling its digital marketing budget following the success of a strategy to use online to drive visits to its restaurants. The fast-food brand significantly upped its online investment as early as 2008 after its digital marketing led to a 10% uplift in traffic to its site. No2. in Mashable’s Social Media’s Smartest Brands - Burger King has really been pushing its social marketing limits. It first started with whoppervirgins.com, entering the social space with the “sacrifice ten friends” facebook application. The campaign quickly went viral and was adopted by over 20,000 users, sacrificing 200,000 friends for free whoppers. The application was shut down as quickly as it started by Facebook, citing privacy concerns.

Regardless, the application was beautifully built and the idea was perfect. Burger King built in the ability to share it, the incentive to use it, and added just enough humour to make the campaign a hit. Last Christmas (2008) American men were given the chance to smell like their favourite meat snack with the launch of Flame, Burger King’s contribution to the perfume market. The company describes Flame as “the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat”. Flame, a body spray for men, was launched online and in a selection of US stores, the list of which can be found on the perfume’s website, which was named, appropriately, firemeetsdesire.com. “... now you can set the mood for whatever you’re in the mood for,” sold the site.

Late last year, Burger King UK launched Singing in the Shower, “the world’s first guilt free showercam”. Visitors could “watch our shower babe shake her bits to the hits at 9:30 every morning”. And they vote for the outfit she will wear and the song she will sing the next day.

Targeting men (over 18... the site is age-protected) to get them to buy breakfast, the site also offered the chance to win a date with the shower babe Ð breakfast at Burger King, of course. Referring to the campaigns “blatantly male bias,” a Burger King spokesman explained the campaign’s focus saying: “Our research showed that breakfast is a male-centric audience for Burger King; it doesn’t resonate as well with women - we are targeting the people who are buying breakfast.” The new campaign King Tasty has seen the fast food giant grilled after complaints to the ASA. The Advertising Standards Authority said members of the public had complained because it appears to refer to the F word and the complaints body is now assessing the situation. Burger King said of the campaign: “Our advertising is always fun, humorous and intended to entertain.”

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs