Subservient Chicken. Mascot for Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Poster child for viral marketing. But was he a good salesman?

April 23, 2009

I’ll give you finger licking good!

Burger King just celebrated the 5-year anniversary of its infamous “Subservient Chicken” web campaign produced by Crispin Porter & Bogusky and the Barbarian Group.

The anniversary came and went, with the trades and various bloggers picking up the story. Certainly the hubbub was nothing like it was when SK first danced upon the personal computing screens of America. Oh, weren’t we all a-twitter? And I’m talking pre-twitter.

Subservient Chicken put Crispin and Burger King on the map. But they were different maps weren’t they? The vaguely perverse chicken became an icon for its ad agency, eliciting more love and hate than the war in Iraq. SK validated Crispin’s Fame mission. SK validated the obsession for digital marketing. SK inflamed the passions of countless intern copywriters and art directors looking for new definitions of creativity.

But what exactly did the S-Chicken do for the B-King? I’m pretty sure it was created to sell chicken sandwiches. Did it? I don’t remember. It’s a safe bet that more people were talking about chicken than eating it. And since that is the definition of fame, then by Crispin’s criteria the campaign was wildly successful.

And if Subservient Chicken was a phenomenon then Crispin’s reinvention of the Burger King became an icon. The creepy and mischievous King is about as famous as marketing stuff gets, maybe not Tony the Tiger but right up there with Madge and Mr. Whipple. And the King doesn’t even have a catch phrase!

Famous. No question about it. Crispin delivered to its client a celebrity logo-type thing out of the charcoal broiled vapor.

But is it working? After Spongebob’s booty call, after “waking up with the King,” after all the campy mayhem and frat boy antics are more people buying Whoppers than Big Macs?

Maybe. I honestly don’t know.

I do know that despite having an ad campaign with almost no creative charisma, McDonald’s is making money hand over fist. Their “I’m Loving It” mantra has contributed mightily to the golden arches golden profits. Those results are known and talked about a lot more than the advertising. I’ve never been a fan of this line. On the contrary, I don’t like it. But that’s immaterial.

Which client do you think is happier?

As I write Adweek is reporting that BK intends to significantly increase ad spending next year, so they mustn’t be unhappy. But the WSJ indicates March sales were down sending the stock price sliding 20%.

All questions aside, I am firmly on record as being a great admirer of Crispin Porter & Bugusky. In my view, they are the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time. But for all the hype (press) and glory (awards) I wonder about sales. For all the sizzle, where’s the beef?


13 Responses to “Subservient Chicken. Mascot for Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Poster child for viral marketing. But was he a good salesman?”

  1. Joe Dapier said

    I too, have always wondered if those much hyped “buzz” campaigns ever really translated into sales for their clients. On one hand, you could say it raises consumer awareness of the overall brand when it jumps into pop culture. On the other, are people really “sold” on said brand or is it just “funny” water cooler fodder that really doesn;t drive people into stores?

    It’s funny how other clients take things like “subservient” and use them as examples of how they’d like to create a ‘buzz” when the reality is, we really have very little control over whether or not it happens. Subservient was one. “Wassup” was another. Think of how many thousands with that same intention (and client mandated) flopped miserably.


  2. I’m reminded of your lecture, Steffan, about people not buying brands but rather buying INTO them. I think that’s where this modern trend of advertising is coming from. We’re consumers of personality as much as we are consumers of product.

    Look at Cadbury’s recent stuff. The gorilla playing Phil Collins, the kids with the cracked out eyebrows. Does it do a better job of promoting chocolate? Who knows. But is Cadbury now sitting firmly in my frontal lobe? You bet.

  3. SRP said

    Well observed guys…
    Creating Buzz is like calling a video viral.
    How the hell do we know?

  4. Brook Boley said

    I liked the concept.
    I love Crispin as an agency.
    I have to say it was the most unappetizing food advertising I’ve ever witnessed.

    Did I mention that I love Crispin.

  5. Van Gould said

    Did the “Subservient Chicken” campaign increase sales of the TenderCrisp sandwich? Maybe. Did it increase Burger King brand awareness? Definitely. Does it matter if it increased sales of the TenderCrisp? I guess that would usually be the idea of a TenderCrisp campaign, but I wonder if this was actually the strategy. “Whopper Freakout” increased sales of the Whopper, but CP+B did put the name of the menu item in the title of that campaign.

  6. justin said

    The BK in my neighborhood looks like a crackhouse, which seems to be standard operating procedure for many on their locations.

    There’s nothing brilliant advertising can do for the one on our street that couldn’t be easier accomplished with a can of paint, some Windex and a handyman named Larry or Stu.

  7. Jason Fox said

    Is “I’m lovin’ it.” working because it’s good or because McD’s uses the classic carpet-bombing method of media placement? Since I’m not giving the option of both, I’m obviously voting for the latter.

    I, like apparently everyone else, have no idea if BK’s flipping more burgers thanks to CP+B, but I do know they actually have a definable brand image now. Could live without the SpongeBob SexyPants spot, though.

  8. I think Burger King is much more targeted to a specific audience, while McDonald’s is more “for everyone,” especially families.

    It could be that Burger King does not worry about their sales as much as being top-of-mind to their core audience, which i think is young males.

    That’s all speculation, as i haven’t actually seen the numbers.

    I’ve also read articles about how franchises in cities with a high cost of doing business are unhappy with McDonald’s singular focus on deep discounts.

    I, personally, haven’t stepped into either place for about a decade. Too processed-tasting for me…

  9. SRP said

    Only time I eat this stuff is on road trips.
    And then it’s McDs because of the fries.
    Oddly, even my kids are blase’ about these places.

  10. Yeah now that i think about it, I had to grab a jr. whopper at the Atlanta airport a couple of years ago, because i was trying to catch a transfer. It was not an experience i would care to repeat.

  11. Tom said

    I think our fascination with CP+B is that they actually can pull this stuff off. It is wacky and crazy and on the edge of what we all wish we could do. Does it sell more burgers? Is that what BK wanted? Wonder how much they have been paying in re-work costs for the Tex-Mex spots, the flameout on Whopper Virgins, the pull down of the Facebook Whopper app? Lately the press seems to be not around the novelty of the advertising like SC but the incredible wrongness of some of it.

    Saw that CP+B’s other big client Microsoft seems to have posted big losses recently.

  12. You don’t create viral work.
    You create work that goes viral.

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