Despite its overall sales success, Burger King in 1998 embarked on what senior vice president of marketing James Watkins called an ‘‘aggressive evolution’’ of its brand. With industry leader McDonald’shaving taken steps to address a series of high-profile marketing missteps by rolling out a new cooking system designed to improve the taste of its products, Burger King responded with a marketing strategy that focused on the superior taste of its food. The chain’s three-year-old ‘‘Get Your Burger’s Worth’’ slogan was scrapped and replaced with a line that hit McDonald’s in its self-acknowledged weak spot. ‘‘When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better,’’ boasted the new Burger King television campaign from Ammirati Puris Lintas. ‘‘We will stake Burger King’s future on taste,’’ said Paul Clayton, president of the company’s North American operations.
Since the founding of Burger King in 1954, the Miami-based chain had made food customization, encapsulated by the ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ tag line, a hallmark of its competitive strategy. Burger King restaurants offered traditional fast-food fare in addition to Whopper and BK Broiler sandwiches. The company had grown to become the number two fast-food hamburger chain, with franchisees operating more than 9,800 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states and in 55 countries and territories around the world. Now a subsidiary of London-based Diageo, PLC, one of the world’s leading consumer products businesses whose international portfolio of food and drink brands included Guinness, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Ha¨agen-Dazs, Old El Paso, Progresso, Smirnoff Vodka, Bailey’s Original Irish Creme, and J&B Rare Scotch Whisky, Burger King enjoyed systemwide sales of $10.3 billion in fiscal year 1998.
Burger King was founded by James McLamore and David Edgerton, both of whom had had extensive experience in the restaurant business. They founded the new restaurant around the simple concept of providing the customer with reasonably priced quality food that was served quickly in attractive, clean surroundings. Powered by America’s postwar fast-food boom, the company grew briskly over the ensuing decade. By 1967, when the company was acquired by the Minneapolis-based Pillsbury Company, 8,000 employees were working in 274 different Burger King locations nationwide. Burger King’s success was predicated on its leadership in such areas as product development, decor, service, and advertising. The Whopper sandwich, introduced in 1957, proved an immediate hit and paved the way for future menu innovations. In the late 1990s the Whopper retained its place as one of the best-known hamburger sandwiches in the world, with more than 1.4 billion being sold annually.
Restaurant decor was a second pillar of Burger King’s success. Burger King was the first fast-food chain to introduce dining rooms, allowing customers a chance to eat inside. Drive-through service, designed to satisfy customers on the go, was introduced in 1975 and as of 1999 accounted for approximately 50 percent of Burger King’s business. The company developed a tradition of taking great care in the design and construction of its restaurants.
Burger King’s advertising campaigns also contributed to the company’s success. The company’s first television ad ran on Miami’s only VHF station in 1958. The year after Burger King became a Pillsbury subsidiary, in 1968, the company’s first major promotion, ‘‘The Bigger the Burger the Better the Burger,’’ debuted. In 1974 the landmark ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ campaign was created. Other memorable Burger King advertising campaigns included ‘‘America Loves Burgers and We’re America’s Burger King,’’ ‘‘Make It Special, Make It Burger King,’’ ‘‘Battle of the Burgers,’’ ‘‘Burger King Town,’’ ‘‘We Do It Like You’d Do It,’’ ‘‘Sometimes You’ve Gotta Break the Rules,’’ and ‘‘Your Way, Right Away.’’ The road to the ‘‘When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better’’ campaign began in late 1993, when Clayton, Burger King’s president, and James B. Adamson, its chief executive officer, initiated an agency review. As a result New York-based Ammirati Puris Lintas was tapped to revive the chain’s ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ theme. In 1996 Burger King executed the new strategy with ads focused on foods and set to popular music from the 1970s and ’80s. The musical spots helped consumers make an emotional connection with Burger King. Two years later ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ returned as an integral part of the burger giant’s advertising.
The fast-food sector was one of the most highly developed in the restaurant industry, with the fast-food hamburger category being perhaps the most competitive. There seemed to be McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King outlets on every corner, and consumers were using increasingly sophisticated criteria to decide where and how to spend their money. In this environment gains in market share became critical. One way in which Burger King had traditionally differentiated itself from its competitors and gained market share was by appealing to customers on the issue of customization. The basic idea, embodied in the ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ slogan, was that consumers had individual needs and were best served by products that could be easily customized for them. There was statistical evidence to indicate that there was a large market for customized products. For example, two-thirds of consumers in a poll done by the consulting firm of Kurt Salmon Associates reported difficulty in finding clothes that fit well. About 36 percent of the respondents said that they were willing to pay 12 to 14 percent more for custom clothes and shoes. It was felt that the same principal applied to other areas, including fast food. This was supported by the fact that in 1998 Burger King enjoyed sales gains when it offered a customized option in side dishes with its value meal items. ‘‘Burger King has been customizing its sandwiches since the company was founded in 1954,’’ said Rob Calderin, vice president of USA Marketing for Burger King, in announcing the program. ‘‘Now, we have taken this one step further. In addition to having great tasting food served just the way you like it, customers can have their choice of french fries or onion rings as part of their Value Meals.’’
After world leader McDonald’s Corp., Burger King was the number two hamburger fast-food chain. It had about 20 percent of the U.S. market, compared to 45 percent for McDonald’s. In 1997, emboldened by a series of marketing missteps by McDonald’s—including the illfated Arch Deluxe rollout and an abortive 55-cents pricing scheme—Burger King launched an all-out product war. In rapid succession it introduced a new burger, the Big King, and reformulated its french fries. Both were supported with major ad campaigns. According to figures from Competitive Media Reporting, McDonald’s spent $578 million on advertising in 1997, 3.3 percent less than in 1996. At the same time Burger King boosted its ad spending 17.2 percent, to $423 million. With consumer research consistently citing ‘‘better taste’’ as the basis for Burger King’s appeal, McDonald’s in 1998 took steps to improve the quality of its food. Costs to develop, install, and market a new high-tech cooking system were projected at $500 million, with franchise owners picking up at least $300 million of the tab. New toasters were designed to heat buns in just 10 seconds through a combination of radiant and convection heat, 14 seconds faster than the existing system. Holding cabinets with special moisture controls were installed to keep cooked beef and chicken patties hot for up to 20 minutes without drying. In addition, computer software was developed to more accurately project, often within seconds, what items would likely be ordered at specific times of the day.
To accompany the new approach, a new marketing slogan, ‘‘Made for You,’’ was developed. It had echoes of Burger King’s ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ slogan, something that did not go unnoticed at the headquarters of the number two chain. ‘‘We’ve offered ‘Have It Your Way’ since 1974,’’ scoffed Burger King spokesperson Kim Miller. ‘‘What’s the big deal?’’ Nevertheless, the renewed emphasis on food quality represented a sea change for McDonald’s, which had long relied on heat lamps to keep precooked burgers warm.
IF YOU REBUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
Burger King’s ‘‘When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better’’ may have represented a throwback to the company’s past, but in other areas the fast-food giant was striding boldly into the future. At the same time that the chain was revamping its national advertising, it was looking to boost performance by paying more attention to restaurant operations, newproduct development, and broader marketing.
In 1998 the chain announced that it was embarking on a three-year initiative to spruce up tired stores. Slated for retirement was the tan-and-brick color scheme used in Burger King restaurants, to be supplanted by cobalt blue. Exteriors were to be made brighter with the addition of yellow and red stripes, while the inside walls would be painted a mustard yellow. Even the time-honored Burger King-in-a-bun logo was to be refurbished with a new style of lettering. Other new features included an interactive ‘‘virtual fun center’’ designed for use by children, who were among Burger King’s most important customer; a spaceage drive-through in which patrons could access electronic screens showing them what they had ordered and how much it would cost; and a computer-controlled broiler chamber that could heatmore slowly, allowing for thicker patties such as a planned half-pound burger, tentatively called the Great American. For many Burger King customers the changes were long overdue. Patrons had complained for years about hard-to-read menu boards, crowded eating areas, and tables bolted to the floor. What was their overall impression of the chain? ‘‘ ‘Boring’ would be the right word,’’ cracked Jacqueline McCook, Burger King’s head of strategic planning. ‘‘But they love the food.’’ Consumers, McCook added, were sending Burger King a simple message: ‘‘If you make it a more pleasant environment, we’d come more often.’’ Paul Clayton, president of Burger King’s North American operations, agreed with this assessment. ‘‘The best local-store marketing is a well-run restaurant,’’ he told Advertising Age. ‘‘The better the restaurant delivers the brand, the better they will be. If we have a strong national marketing platform and execute it at the local level, it is a combination that can’t be beat.’’
Burger King had made customizing its sandwiches a hallmark of company philosophy since its founding in 1954 but only began fully promoting the ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ option in 1974. The tag line and its accompanying jingle became synonymous with Burger King in the minds of many consumers.
In 1998 Burger King revived the slogan with the rollout of what was called ‘‘the ultimate Have It Your Way meal’’ at its more than 7,600 restaurants in the United States. Beginning on October 19, Burger King customers could choose french fries or onion rings with any value meal at no extra charge. The side-order option was considered a logical extension of the ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ concept.
To emphasize the connection with the past, the burger giant assigned Matthew Berger, son of the original ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ jingle writer, Dennis Berger, to update the lyrics. ‘‘Value meals with rings or fries/Still cost the same with one great price,’’ warbled singers in a new set of radio and television commercials. ‘‘You don’t have to ask us twice to have it your way.’’ To spearhead the new campaign, Burger King continued using popular ads that mixed food shots and classic rock and soul songs, while also adding more spots showing customers enjoying the chain’s food.
As the campaign progressed, Burger King developed a series of new big-budget image- building television ads. In one a drill sergeant berated a group of recruits who must do everything the sergeant’s way, except when it came to ‘‘having it their way’’ at Burger King. A second spot blended part of a 1973 ad with new footage to create a striking retro effect. A third ad took a more whimsical approach. Two men wearing 1970s leisure suits walked into a Burger King and ordered a Whopper without pickles. Three women emerged from behind the counter and began singing the ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ song. The ad then cut back to 1998, as the same two men, now balding and graying—but still clothed in polyester—ordered onion rings instead of fries and received the identical serenade.
An even more imaginative execution of the ‘‘When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better’’ theme was staged in time for the Fourth of July. On the holiday weekend Burger King for the first time aired brand image television spots directed exclusively to children that stressed the longevity and practical application of its customization process. ‘‘Burger King has been customizing burgers since being established in 1954 and we plan to pass that core equity message on to a new generation,’’ said Calderin. ‘‘These advertisements send that message. As most parents would agree, kids can be fairly choosy eaters. The children’s television spot in particular, lets them know they can have it their way at Burger King.’’ In addition to the television spot, on July 2 Burger King placed a full-page advertisement in USA Today saluting the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July. The ad playfully reminded readers that America’s founding fathers were the first group to ‘‘have it their way.’’ ‘‘Burger King and Independence Day have a lot in common,’’ remarked Calderin. ‘‘We both adhere to the ‘Have It Your Way’ principle. This nation’s founding fathers set the tone a long time ago by having it their way, and we’ve followed their lead.’’
Burger King’s new commercials reprising the ‘‘Have It Your Way’’ jingle may have scored points for nostalgia, but they did not prove popular with consumers. In a survey conducted by USA Today, only 17 percent of participants said that they liked the commercials ‘‘a lot.’’ Of those surveyed, people with a household income of $25,000 to $35,000 a year responded most favorably to the ads. Thirty-three percent of African Americans said that they liked the commercials a lot, compared with 14 percent of whites. Perhaps more encouraging for Burger King was the response of young people, a key target for fast-food companies. Respondents between the ages of 25 and 29 were more enthusiastic than other age groups, with 26 percent of them reporting that they liked the commercials a lot. The commercials did receive higher scores for effectiveness, with 23 percent of respondents rating the commercials as ‘‘very effective.’’ Despite the lukewarm response in the survey, Burger King officials remained satisfied with the ‘‘When You Have It Your Way, It Just Tastes Better’’ theme. The company’s ad director, Andy Bonaparte, reported that the commercials increased traffic in Burger King restaurants. ‘‘Response has been positive so far,’’ he told USA Today. Many corporate image specialists agreed that the retro ads would prove to be a compelling platform for the chain. ‘‘ ‘Have it your way’ was the biggest idea Burger King ever had, and it’s still very relevant today,’’ claimed Allen Adamson of Landor Associates. ‘‘No one else has grabbed that positioning, so they’re smart to bring that back.’’