Is this a kingly way to treat brand loyalists?

February 12, 2008 at 10:48 pm 1 comment

Sally Saville Hodge

It’s difficult to argue against an advertising campaign that so clearly, definitively – and, indeed, creatively – demonstrates the role that brand loyalty plays in a business’ success.

And yet, while I admire the minds behind Burger King’s latest advertising campaign, there’s something about its basic premise that makes me very uncomfortable.

Few can have missed either the commercials or the viral buzz around the effort. In a nutshell: Take away the reason why the vast majority of Burger King fans visit its restaurants to begin with – the Whopper – and listen to the howls of protest. For two full days that’s exactly what Burger King did at two of its restaurants in Nevada. The ostensive rationale, deadpanned one cashier to a stunned customer: “…they got too popular. The sandwich got too big for the menu.”

As the Wall Street Journal reported, it all paid off quite nicely for the No. 2 fast food chain, helping drive up Burger King’s sales in the quarter ended Dec. 31 by double-digits. (Even as things were flat under the golden arches.)

It was all filmed by hidden cameras at two outlets in Nevada, using actors as cashiers. But the customers and their outrage over a Burger King without Whoppers were quite real, as footage, seen in commercials and virally (a special Burger King site and on YouTube), so aptly showed. Part of the act was to slip a competitor’s burger in customers’ bags and watch their befuddlement. “I didn’t bring that in here,” said one. “I hate Wendy’s!”

Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal used one word several times to describe the campaign, which might partially explain why it so discomfits me: Hoax. Synonyms would include “trick,” “swindle” and “ruse.” Other words that come to mind: Dishonest. Mean.

I think I’m probably in the minority in letting this bother me. But then again, I’m not a big fan of humor that involves pratfalls and physical pain, or of “reality” TV in general, for that matter.

Burger King got a great campaign out of this effort. But it was derived from a cruel joke on people who are its most die-hard fans. Is that any way to build a brand?

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Entry filed under: Advertising, Branding.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jason Rakowski  |  February 12, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

    Reply

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