The Bird's The Word

by , May 14, 2004, 12:00 AM
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Quick-name three pieces of online marketing you remember seeing in the past year!

Still thinking? Take all the time you need. And I'm making it easy on you by asking for three ads you remembered, not necessarily liked. While you're racking your brain, I'm going to throw out one that seems to be generating its fair share of debate lately-the subservientchicken.com website recently launched by Burger King. Rather than use my precious few words here to describe the site, I recommend a visit.

Buczaczer

The idea, after all, is to get people to tell their friends. The chief complaint I've heard among critics is that the site does nothing to sell Burger King food. In fact, the sight of a large man dressed in a chicken costume adorned with a garter belt and leather straps likely removes the appetite of all but the heartiest of souls.

Advertising that doesn't close the sale, the maxim goes, is ineffective and a waste of money. And the inevitable slam dunk that follows this set-up is the classic phrase "creative for creative's sake." In other words, agency copywriters and art directors are simply pleasing themselves with clever, little gimmicks that cause them and their Matt-Groening-wannabe peers to cackle, but do little to move actual product.

This accusation seems to ring true much of the time with television ads that spend too much time setting up a one-off joke and forget to actually leave us with a message about the product in question. At the same time however, the charge is too often trotted out as a stock response to anything which deviates from a timeworn, copy-tested formula.

The difference with this piece of communication is that it's NOT a 30-second spot and it's NOT the fast food giant's lead communication tool. It uses a different, notably digital medium, for a different purpose. While the content is undoubtedly jarring, part of the shock comes from what makes it effective-it doesn't play by the typical rules of advertising. It's meant to get people chatting, and 45,600 entries listed on Google as I type this seem to argue that it's working. And it's meant to be part of a greater whole, not Burger King's stand-alone effort to sell chicken sandwiches.

Here is how I imagine a brief looked for the creation of subservientchicken:

1. Use online to connect with the 18-34 male target. Given common knowledge about how elusive this demographic is, combined with Burger King's sales of late, this constitutes a supreme challenge.

2. Put Burger King back on the map for this target. BK sells burgers and fries, just like the competition. Prices are comparable and quality is likely similar, if not better. What's missing is that the brand isn't top of mind for these men.

3. Get people talking. As the world gets noisier, the power of word-of-mouth grows in influence. And online is a phenomenally suited medium for spreading buzz. No one remembers a Burger King ad since pickles danced to classic rock five years ago.

4. Let each media play to its inherent strengths. Beautiful food shots, price promotions, and brand messaging all play important roles and should be lead components of overall Burger King campaign messaging. However, this assignment is to get people talking. Do not feel the need to fit EVERYTHING into EVERY component of the campaign.

And thus a powerful viral campaign was born. The results of this effort and its word-of-mouth objective seem indisputable-46 million hits and counting last time I checked, all with no paid promotion except a few tags at the end of late night TV spots.

Does talk value, in and of itself, constitute a successful marketing plan? Not at all. But can it help put a new or faded brand onto the radar? Yes, if the brand has something to say. And judging by the onslaught of branding work and product intros we've seen from Burger King over the past few months, it seems the burger giant does have a message to go with the buzz.

This advertising tactic is certainly not for everyone. But in this case, with a young male demo that is not easily distracted from the Xbox, and a brand that desperately needs to be reconsidered by consumers, it seems to be a carefully calculated part of a larger initiative to make Burger King cool again.

Now that you've had some time, can you remember any online advertising from the past year? Maybe that's why every online summit seems to have at least one panel dedicated to online creativity-how to improve it, and how to get some of traditional advertising's sharpest minds to finally bring to the Internet some of their memorable work we've witnessed over years of TV viewing. And while we're throwing out maxims and stock phrases, here's another one for you: be careful what you wish for because you might actually get it.

Dan Buczaczer is vice president/media director, SMG IP, the digital unit of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group.

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