Burger King is testing an old maxim, “If at first you succeed in going viral, try really, really, really hard to do so again.”
The Subservient Chicken, which you may (or may not) remember from a decade ago when it became “one of the most popular viral ad campaigns of all time” in Bruce Horovitz’ words in USA Today, and “seemed to be aimed at 20-something stoners,” as Maureen Morrison reminds us in Ad Age, is on his way back.
Once he’s found.
“The wacky guy in the chicken suit — who responded to very specific Web commands typed onto keyboards by consumers — took the Internet in a new, interactive direction,” Horovitz writes. “Now, in a bid to promote its new Chicken Big King sandwich, Burger King has re-launched the familiar website — subservientchicken.com — but with one important thing missing: the chicken.”
The website asks for visitors’ help in finding the bird, promising they can “get the chicken just the way you like it.” Type in sleeping, for example, which is what it should have been doing when we typed it before the first rooster crowed this morning, and you get: “The chicken wishes he was home. Sleeping. In his bed. Instead, he’s missing, scared and probably alone. A little help, maybe?”
Also, “a pop-up alert for a ‘Missing Chicken Error’ prompts people to click a "Help Us" button, which then asks them to share the link on social media, The AP’s Candice Choi reports on NPR.org.
This all started a decade ago when “TV spots that nobody remembers today introduced the character of a guy in a chicken suit getting bossed around,” says the voiceover for a short self-promotional video on AdForum by The Barbarian Group, which produced the original database-driven web video for BK’s former agency, Crispin Porter+ Bogusky. “We did the logical thing, we let people boss them for real.”
“Burger King's CMO at the time was Russ Klein, who green-lighted a number of off-the-wall campaigns by CP&B, including Whopper Freakout, Whopper Virgins and even a fictional metal band named Coq Roq that wore chicken outfits and sang about BK's chicken fries,” Ad Age’s Morrison reports.
Looking ahead, Burger King is going to post a video detailing the “rise and fall” of the Subservient Chicken — “The Other Side of the Road: The Subservient Chicken Story” — on the website at 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
Current CMO Eric Hirschhorn “declined to provide details about the video…,” Choi reports, “but said the idea is that the chicken is ‘turning the tables’ on people.” And “it will include an appearance by Dustin Diamond, the actor best known for playing Screech on the teen sitcom ‘Saved By the Bell.’”
“This sandwich is a big deal so it felt fitting to partner with the Subservient Chicken, who is a pop culture icon,” Hirschhorn tells Morrison. “The chicken will help us launch the Big King in a big way,” Hirschhorn tells Horovitz, adding that “he will stick around going forward.”
Not that that’s good news to everyone.
“The original Subservient Chicken site, with its grainy, security cam look, attracted around 1 billion visitors, most of whom would then either sit there and argue with their friends about whether it was an actual live cam (it wasn’t), or who would type things in to see how subservient the chicken actually was (not very),” the Consumerist’s Chris Morran writes after referring to the campaign as “exceedingly creepy.”
“Because I still occasionally have nightmares featuring the Subservient Chicken and his pal — that monstrous big-headed Burger King I pray never returns — I’m perfectly fine with this particular chicken remaining free range,” Morran concludes.
Creepy or not, it worked.
“It used to be called viral but really it’s just the idea that brands can connect with people without spending money on media by creating something so engaging that people just have to share it,” concludes the Barbarian Group video. “We had known since the dawn of the web that it was possible. But it took putting a guy in a chicken suit to prove it to the world.”
The question is, of course, is whether it’s possible again notwithstanding the considerable boost it has already gotten from the media that people spend money in and on.