Burger King’s newest campaign is a nightmarish fever dream of ridiculous proportions. The new spot, unveiled today, marks the fast food giant’s official foray into the heated and highly meme-able chicken sandwich wars.
Following the hype over Popeyes’ fried chicken sandwich that induced food shortages and stoked the flames of impassioned social media debates, chicken has become a key battleground in the war of the fast food giants. This February, McDonald’s launched a new line of chicken sandwiches. It then doubled down with the BTS-themed chicken nugget meal — which gained further publicity with a nugget from the meal shaped like an Among Us character allegedly selling for $35,000 on eBay. In the meantime, Carl’s Jr, Chick-fil-A, KFC, Shake Shack and Taco Bell have all debuted new or revamped chicken menu items.
Now, two months after the highly-lauded Fernando Machado departed his post as chief marketer at Burger King, the fast food joint is launching its big chicken item. The Ch’King hand-breaded fried chicken sandwich is now available nationwide.
“We committed to not half-assing our sandwich, so we took our time to get it right –two years, to be exact,” says Richard Guest, vice-president of marketing communications at Burger King North America. “We ran a ton of market tests to perfect the product, then conducted a four-phased roll-out and training program in partnership with our franchisees to ensure we made the best possible hand-breaded chicken sandwich.”
To spread the word, the brand has enlisted Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Paul Giamatti – best known for his roles in Billion, Sideways and John Adams – to narrate ‘Nightmare’, the first of four spots created to promote the new sandwich.
The film, a dark, comedic manifestation of the King’s deepest fears, is Burger King’s way of telling us that the new Ch’King is, well, scary good. Maybe good enough to usurp the Whopper’s throne. The spot, created by the brand’s agency of record, David, opens with a scene of the King being bombarded by social media posts attesting to the deliciousness of the Ch’King. One YouTuber says: “The Whopper better run.” The King falls into a dreamlike alternate reality where fast-food goers, in a trance-like state, are going berserk over the new chicken sandwich. A woman clucks ominously at the camera. “Is this foul play?” Giamatti pleas dramatically. “Has the Whopper finally met its match? Will this cluckin’ nightmare end... or is it only the beginning?”
According to Guest, the creatives at David had the initial vision, which started with a simple but ‘provocative’ idea: that the Ch’King could be even better than the Whopper. “Since we’re inside the King’s nightmare vision, anything was up for grabs,” says Rafael Donato, chief creative officer at David Miami. “The idea of the ‘deconstructed BK’ was a great suggestion from our director, Kris Bellman, which gave even more room for us to play with. That paired with inspiration from The Big Lebowski and a bit of Trainspotting resulted in this awesome nightmare landscape.”
The launch of the Ch’King could give the fast food Goliath a much-needed boost after it slipped behind rival Wendy’s for the number two slot in the highly competitive quick-service restaurant segment. After Burger King’s same-store sales dropped nearly 4% during the early days of the pandemic, the brand is on the path to recovery. US same-store sales jumped 6.6% during the first quarter of 2021, and with the debut of the Ch’King, the brand will certainly be aiming to cash in on the hype over chicken sandwiches.
It’s worth noting that the parent company of Burger King, Restaurant Brands International, also owns Popeyes – whose chicken sandwich topped with spicy mayo first ignited the chicken wars in 2019. It’s likely that Popeyes’s contingent success has inspired Restaurant Brands International to invest more dollars in chicken products across its suite of brands.
Still, Burger King and David knew it would be a challenge to capture audiences’ attention in a crowded playing field – and so they decided to pit the product against a different opponent. “The main challenge was to stand out in the landscape,” Donato says. “All other restaurants have already launched their sandwiches and we’re risking falling on deaf ears with another chicken sandwich. The solution was not to compare ourselves to other chicken sandwiches, but actually to what we do best: the Whopper.”
The Ch’King comes in three variations. The standard Ch’King, served on a potato bun, is topped with pickles and a savory sauce, while the Spicy Ch’King includes a hot glaze. The Ch’King Deluxe sees the pickles nixed but adds lettuce and tomato.
‘Nightmare’ is the Ch’King’s first promotional effort. Burger King will run 60-second, 30-second, 15-second and six-second variations of the spot. Two additional films promoting the sandwich will roll out in the coming months, “narrated by a reluctant and hilarious Paul Giamatti,” according to Donato. The campaign will be further activated via radio and social media, including some efforts that will reference Whopper campaigns of yesteryear to stoke the fanfare.
Plus, to confirm or disprove that the Ch’King has truly outdone the brand’s flame-grilled headliner, Burger King will be handing out free Whoppers with the purchase of a Ch’King sandwich until June 20. “We’d like everyone in America to try a Ch’King,” Guest says. “All of our comms are highlighting the fact that real guests and food reviewers love this sandwich.”
And he says that Whopper and Ch’King fans should keep their eyes peeled – and mouths salivating – for whatever comes next. “Burger King is a proud challenger and the second half of 2021 will be an exciting time for the brand,” he says. “The Ch’King is our latest creation as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s expected at the drive-through and expand to menu items you’d traditionally expect from fine dining. The Ch’King embodies the spirit of culinary innovation you can always expect from us. We’re driven to keep creating new and delicious dishes that will satisfy our guests and keep them coming back for more.”