He’s back…

Has it been ten years? It seems like only yesterday that Crispin Porter & Bogusky and the Barbarian Group unleashed Burger King’s risqué digital critter, Subservient Chicken into the cyber sphere, changing the marketing landscape forever.

No overstatement, for here was a web born oddity that challenged the way marketers interacted with consumers. Subservient Chicken was stupid by design, entirely digital and immensely provocative, especially within the advertising community. Ostensibly touting BK’s chicken sandwiches, Subservient Chicken lived on a microsite, where one could make him do various naughty things. If I remember correctly the Chicken possessed a bondage vibe, implying Tarantino-esque behavior.

A hit with the chicks…

Personally, I don’t recall the specifics but I do know it made Burger King and especially CP&B famous. Whether consumers actually gave two shits about SC’s antics, he/it became part of the conversation, driving more attention and commentary than almost anything else in Adland. Everyone at every agency had an opinion, many unfavorable. “Where was the brand?” the old guard screamed. “Why on earth would BK want a nasty chicken promoting their food?”

On and on the uproar continued. Through it all, CP&B flourished. The more the critics bellowed the more famous the campaign became. Instead of defending itself, the agency shrugged off all haters, if anything encouraging them more. Burger King corporate may have flapped its wings, freaking out. But they were powerless in the face of all this attention. Bad ink truly became good ink. And for a major advertiser like Burger King the notoriety was a game changer.

Notoriety. From that point on, CP&B’s mission to make brands famous (or infamous as the case may be) became a notion that countless other advertisers now had to take seriously. Online discourse, especially via social media, became relevant to marketing.

CP&B went on to make one award-winning campaign after another, incorporating then-new platforms like Facebook to do it. As a follow-up to the perverted Chicken, the agency introduced us to the Creepy Burger King. An equally loud and persistent racket ensued.

Where’s the beef?

Clients flocked to the agency for something similar. Every creative person on Earth wanted to work there. For many years CP&B was the center of the marketing universe, envied and reviled at the same time. I can’t tell you how many meetings I was in where the Subservient Chicken was brought up. Like it or not, the campaign was in a league with Nike and Apple. Eventually, and controversially, BK and CP&B would part ways (the heat in the kitchen was just too hot) but SC’s impact in Adland can still be felt.

A decade later, Burger King, via work from a trio of other agencies, is bringing back its risqué’ mascot. Will it have the same effect as before –in Adland, at award shows and on popular culture? I don’t think that’s possible.

For a look at the new campaign as well more history, here’s the story in AdAge.