Because of what appeared to be a revolving door in its executive suite, as well as a steady drop in customer traffic, which was blamed on inconsistent food quality and poor customer service, Burger King was in search of a way to reestablish its brand identity and to rebuild sales. According to Advertising Age, in January 2004 Burger King had at the helm its nineteenth chief executive in its 50-year history, and at the same time the fast-food chain was struggling with a 22 percent decline in customer traffic that had begun in the late 1990s. Adding to the company’s problems was a lack of consistency in its advertising. As Advertising Age noted, ‘‘Advertising has often been the scapegoat for sliding sales, with fours shops getting axed in the past four years.’’ Although Kevin Keller, a marketing professor at Dartmouth College, told Advertising Age that Burger King had ‘‘a brand problem, not an advertising problem,’’ the company joined with the Miami-based advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky to help implement a turnaround. The agency reintroduced ‘‘Have it your way,’’ a popular tagline from the 1970s, and in February 2004 launched a marketing campaign, ‘‘Lunch Break,’’ designed to appeal to its target audience, 18- to 34-year-olds who ate fast food and many of whom worked in offices. A series of television spots, which resembled an abbreviated sitcom, featured a cast of office workers ordering lunch from Burger King. Burger King’s return to the ‘‘Have it your way’’ tagline and the new ‘‘Lunch Break’’ campaign seemed to achieve the company’s goals of reconnecting with its target audience and rebuilding sales. According to Burger King, for 10 consecutive months following the launch of the campaign, sales increased. Same-store sales in November 2004 were up 8.6 percent in franchised restaurants and up 14.2 percent in company-owned restaurants. The campaign was also recognized with awards at the 2004 Cannes Lions and the Clios.
Since opening its first restaurant in 1954, Burger King had grown to more than 11,200 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states and in 60 other countries, and it reported systemwide sales of $11.1 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003. The company aired its first television spot, ‘‘Home of the Whopper,’’ in 1958, and its first major advertising campaign, ‘‘The Bigger the Burger the Better the Burger,’’ was launched in 1968. Other campaigns followed, including the company’s best-known and most successful, ‘‘Have It Your Way,’’ which was introduced in 1974.
Despite the success of ‘‘Have It Your Way,’’ the campaign was scrapped and replaced by what USA Today described as ‘‘forgettable themes,’’ including ‘‘Best Darn Burger’’ in 1978, ‘‘Burger King Town’’ in 1986, and ‘‘The Whopper Says’’ in 2001. Burger King seemed constantly to be changing its ad campaigns, but the new themes failed to resonate with consumers. As Burger King’s customer traffic continued to slip, it appeared that the number-three fast-food chain, Wendy’s, was ready to push Burger King from its second-place position and to settle in behind the number-one chain, McDonald’s. In an effort to draw its customers back and to rebuild sales, Burger King took action in 2004 by reintroducing the ‘‘Have it your way’’ tagline in the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ campaign.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Steve Sapka said that the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ campaign targeted ‘‘burger-craving Gen X and Gen Yers who demanded personalization and customization in every aspect of daily life. With much of that audience spending day after day at the office, BK knew that the relationships reflected in the ‘Lunch Break’ campaign would resonate well and get the brand message and product attributes out in an entertaining and relevant way.’’
Reintroducing the ‘‘Have it your way’’ tagline also appealed to another market, baby boomers who were looking for products and symbols reminiscent of their childhoods. In a discussion of the retro trend in culture and of its influence on the ways in which companies were marketing their products, Schuyler Brown, managing director of trends for Euro RSCG, told USA Today, ‘‘We’re all nostalgic for the loss of our childhood. Kids are getting too old too fast. Adults are trying to hold on to their youth.’’
Although an Ad Track survey by USA Today reported that ‘‘consumers overall have mixed feelings about the return to ‘Have it your way’ . . . the ads score highest in likability and effectiveness with 18- to 24-yearolds.’’ Russ Klein, the chief marketing officer of Burger King, told USA Today that it was all right that the survey results were skewed toward the young: ‘‘Our core group is 18 to 34 years old. We understand it’s more important to be provocative than pleasant with this group.’’
During an early ad campaign Burger King had referred to itself as ‘‘America’s Burger King,’’ but over the years it remained firmly entrenched in second place behind the fast-food giant McDonald’s and just ahead of the numberthree chain, Wendy’s. As the Evansville Courier & Press noted, ‘‘McDonald’s and Burger King have been going burger-to-burger for more than 30 years, with Wendy’s and smaller companies also fighting for consumers’ hearts and appetites . . . A price war between the two that stepped up in 2002 weakened profits and produced only mixed results, with Wendy’s steering clear and picking up steady gains.’’
To try to bounce back from weakened profits, McDonald’s, according to USA Today, had reinvented itself ‘‘as a place for the young and hip—not just for the Happy Meal set.’’ In 2003 McDonald’s introduced a new theme, ‘‘I’m Lovin’ It,’’ and planned its first global ad campaign to coincide with the new marketing approach. Jurgen Krauss, the CEO of Heye & Partner, the agency based in Munich, Germany, that had created the new theme, said that his ‘‘plan is to make McDonald’s ‘a lifestyle’ not just a place to eat.’’ USA Today reported that ‘‘McDonald’s has reason to crow’’ about its marketing strategy, since the chain’s same-store sales experienced the biggest increase in four years, with stock shares climbing close to a nine-month high.
While Wendy’s sales grew during a Burger King- McDonald’s price war in 2002, the death in that year of Dave Thomas, the company’s founder and key spokesman, created new problems for the chain. Following Thomas’s death, Wendy’s struggled but failed to find an effective method to reach consumers, and according to Advertising Age, same-store sales for 2002 dropped in company-owned and franchised restaurants by 2.9 and 1.8 percent, respectively. In 2005, however, Wendy’s changed its marketing strategy by ‘‘shedding its folksy ª Roland Weihrauch/dpa/Corbis image and one-size-fits-all message,’’ reported AdAge.com. Wendy’s new theme, ‘‘Do What Tastes Right,’’ was designed to set the company apart from the competition, reflect the flexibility of its menu, and appeal to three consumer groups: baby boomers, who were Wendy’s core customers; young adults; and Generation Zers, that is, the teens who were the customers of the future. Much as Burger King turned back the clock by reintroducing the ‘‘Have it your way’’ tagline, Wendy’s returned to its ‘‘square hamburger roots.’’ The company also increased its marketing budget, and while it did not introduce a global ad campaign, as McDonald’s had, it did venture into Internet advertising. Speaking of the new marketing strategy, Ian Rowden, Wendy’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, told AdAge.com, ‘‘We can leverage what we have to different groups. One message at one time broadly targeted for one group doesn’t play anymore for Wendy’s.’’
Burger King stated that its advertising campaigns had contributed to the company’s success, and to keep that success going Brad Blum, the company’s CEO in 2004, said in a January 2004 press release, ‘‘We must have groundbreaking, next-level, results-oriented, and innovative advertising that strongly connects with our core consumers.’’ Greg Brenneman, who replaced Blum as CEO in 2005, told Newsweek that the company’s core consumers were identified when he reviewed a market study ‘‘that showed hard-core fast foodies made up only 18 percent of the population but accounted for 49 percent of business.’’ Brenneman’s priority became providing food options that appealed to the target audience of 18- to 34-year-old men ‘‘who like football and are ‘gray collar’ workers, because their jobs aren’t a bright spot in their lives.’’ Burger King’s Klein told USA Today that the return to ‘‘Have it your way,’’ the tagline that had worked well in the past, was long overdue: ‘‘When you have an ad campaign that sticky, it’s foolish to go against it,’’ he said. Andrew Keller, creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, added, ‘‘At a time when self-expression and mass customization are critical elements of culture, the line makes total sense.’’
In the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ spots a cast of sitcom-style characters known as the ‘‘Lunch Break gang’’ ordered from Burger King, competing to see who could concoct the most unusual Whopper. The competition between the 20-something office staffers heated up with each new commercial. In one spot two coworkers clashed when one ‘‘copied’’ the other’s Whopper order, and in another spot a worker claimed the title as ‘‘champion’’ when he ordered his Whopper with ‘‘no lettuce, extra ketchup, double bacon, double mayo, and two extra beef patties.’’ Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s ‘‘Lunch Break’’ campaign aimed to achieve three goals. It reached the primary target audience of 18- to 34-year-old office workers, it restored Burger King’s cultural relevance by bringing back the ‘‘Have it your way’’ tagline, and it reestablished brand identity.
According to the agency’s Sapka, ‘‘With little room for personalization in the fast food experience, BK had the opportunity to own customization in the category, which was the campaign’s intent.’’ Sapka said that it was because the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ gang’s unique sandwich orders were so effective at promoting Burger King and at returning the ‘‘Have it your way’’ mantra to pop culture that they returned at the end of 2004 in ads tied to the SpongeBob SquarePants movie. In 2005 they were back promoting the Angus Steak Burger, the Tendercrisp, and the Big Fish. Brian Gies, Burger King’s vice president of marketing impact, told Chain Leader, ‘‘As long as it [the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ campaign] stays fresh and relevant, we’ll continue to keep it in the mix.’’
BURGER KING RETURNS TO POP CULTURE TO LAUNCH NEW BURGER
With the success in using popular television shows like The Office and Seinfeld as the theme for its ‘‘Lunch Break’’ marketing campaign, which featured a sitcomstyle cast of 20-something office workers ordering lunch from the fast-food restaurant, Burger King turned in 2005 to another pop-culture venue—reality TV—to launch a new product and to support its marketing campaign. For this campaign Burger King partnered with business mogul Donald Trump for the season premiere of his reality TV show, The Apprentice. According to the company, the challenge for the two teams on Trump’s show, called ‘‘Street Smarts’’ and ‘‘Book Smarts,’’ was to ‘‘name, build, market, and sell a new menu item at Burger King restaurants.’’ At the end of the episode the Street Smarts team had won, with its product—the Angus Steak Burger—available to customers for a limited time at Burger Kings nationwide. Russ Klein, the company’s chief marketing officer, said of the project, ‘‘At Burger King, our have it your way philosophy puts our customers in charge. It’s all about empowerment and getting what you want, when you want it. That’s why we couldn’t wait to take this burger from the boardroom to the lunchroom.’’
The ‘‘Lunch Break’’ ads were believed to have had a strong influence on the resurgence of sales at Burger King. Gies told Chain Leader that the ads had been ‘‘an important contributor to the brand’s momentum. The campaign has done great things for brand recall, message recall, and likeability.’’
WWD recognized two of the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ spots by including them on its list of the 10 most effective new TV commercials launched during the last week of February 2004, and Adweek included the campaign in its list of best spots. Adweek wrote that Burger King’s campaign ‘‘managed to create characters who, despite their oddball antics (or maybe because of them), feel familiar and almost always funny . . . The casting and dialogue are superb, and the spots also seem to spark stomach rumbling, so CP+B must be doing something right.’’ ‘‘Lunch Break’’ campaign spots also won the Silver Award at the 2004 Cannes Lions and Bronze Awards at the Clios.
Not every review of the campaign was positive, however. Lewis Lazare, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, called the ‘‘Lunch Break’’ spots ‘‘a stylistic mishmash if ever there were one.’’ Lazare wrote that the ‘‘story line and underlying message are confusing . . . And, sadly, the message about getting burgers done your way at Burger King seems to be diminished by all the silent sturm und drang.’’ According to USA Today ’s weekly poll, Ad Track, only 14 percent of those familiar with the ads liked them ‘‘a lot’’ and thought that they were ‘‘very effective,’’ while 30 percent were found to ‘‘dislike’’ the ads.