Burger King retires mascot in response to public pressure

August 19, 2011

Burger King freshens fast-food image, kicks King to the curb

Even Burger King is embracing the freshy-changey thing.

In the first of many steps to reinvent itself over the next year, the struggling fast-feeder Friday will announce that it's dethroning the creepy King character — and other wacky, teen-targeting stuff — and refocusing on a customer it had all but forgotten: Mom.

In a new ad campaign set to air this weekend, Burger King will nationally roll out the California Whopper on Monday, made with what's arguably the gastronomic trend of 2011: guacamole. In a serious image twist, the entire commercial shows only the sights and sounds of the fresh ingredients being washed, sliced and diced. There are no words, just pulsating music.

Industry experts say the move may be Burger King's (BKC) best bet of giving Ronald McDonald any hint of competition. In a world where Cheesecake Factory now has a low-cal menu and even Sizzler touts the freshness of its grub, Burger King is latching onto the all-critical fresh-and-healthy-food factor.

"Call it the Whole Foods effect," says Ron Paul, president of consulting firm Technomic. Target's bragging about fresh food, he notes. 7-Eleven's touting it. And Subway's made billions from that premise. "Fresh is it," Paul says.

But under new ownership, Burger King has yet another new CEO, marketing chief and agency. Perhaps the most consistent thing for BK over the past two decades has been its inconsistency.

"People want a reason to go back to Burger King," says Alex Macedo, senior marketing vice president. By spending the next year fixing the food, modernizing stores and updating its image, the No. 2 burger chain will convince folks it's time to return, he says. "There are no plans to bring the King back anytime soon," he adds.

The first ads tout the limited-time California Whopper ($4.49, with guacamole, Swiss cheese and bacon) and a re-intro of the Breakfast Croissan'wich.

Behind the effort is Burger King's new agency, McGarryBowen, which is the cosmic opposite of its former edgy agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

"We're re-igniting the latent feeling that people have about Burger King," says Gordon Bowen, chief creative officer at McGarryBowen.

That won't be easy. The chain's same-store sales were down 6% in the first quarter, while McDonald's were up nearly 3%, Technomic says.

When it comes to matters of perceived fast-food quality, Burger King not only lags behind McDonald's but Subway and even KFC, says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, which surveys consumers on preferences.

"There was a time when price value was king," says Passikoff. "Now, healthy choice and quality drive the category." 

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