at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Brand Strategy: Whopper Freakout

In advertising, agency, Brands, communications on January 2, 2008 at 10:20 am


I remember participating in a pitch for Burger King early in my career. (At this point, “career” meant copies and coffee– it was a typical CC first job. BCC meant bring bagels or beer depending on the time of day.) This was pre-Crispin Burger King, and pre a couple of other agencies since they were going through about an agency a year at that point.

We spent a lot of time brainstorming about Flame Broiled, Have it Your Way and the delightful meat smell that arose from the franchises. Perhaps it was this utter lack of creative thinking and inability to think big enough or creatively enough about the problem at hand that stuck with me.

Subservient Chicken was a great little viral effort from the folks at Crispin and the web design agency whose name we will never know because Crispin took credit for that too. But I’m even more impressed by their new effort Whopper Freakout. It’s a twist on Goodby’s successful GotMilk strategy and takes deprivation to a new, excruciating level.

Amazingly, they convinced Burger King to take a franchise and do the unthinkable for a couple days: take the Whopper off the menu and videotape customer reactions. The initial disbelief, contempt and requests to see the manager are entertaining enough but the best part comes about halfway through when they begin replacing the Whopper with burgers from competitive chains. It’s amazing visual proof of the strength of the Burger King and Whopper brands to see customers reject competitive offerings that are, arguably, pretty similar products. A hamburger is a hamburger… unless it’s a Whopper.

They could have done a traditional deprivation exercise where they asked customers, “What would you do if the Whopper went away?” and returned with a report about how customers would find alternatives, would choose something different from the BK menu, wouldn’t go out as much. But instead they put consumers in the context of the unthinkable actually happening and put it online for everyone to see. The reactions are crisper, emotions more palpable and the insights are clearer. Congratulations to Burger King for taking a risk and congrats to Crispin for some great thinking and execution.

  1. The other thing that Crispin has done so well is walking away from the ’90s strategic mentality of “matching luggage” advertising. Burger King has a different look and feel for every campaign, a shocking rebellion against the campaign management and brand standards that the ’90s cultivated.

    It’s tough to build from the Got Milk strategy and think that your team will do something as good or better, but Crispin has managed to stand alone in a fresh twist to that established deprivation strategy.

    Griffin Farley

  2. […] text reads, “Silly Whopper That’s a Big Mac Box.” Obviously a follow up to their WhopperFreakout work but last I checked the campaign isn’t on the top of everyone’s minds and people […]

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