Is Burger King Going Too Far: The De-Evolution of a Brand Icon

There aren’t too many brands that I’m loyal to, but at a very young age I dumped McDonalds for an alternative: flame broiled beefcakes. But lately it’s become clear that Burger King has moved their focus to targeting young males. Perhaps that’s always been the case, and it was too subtle for most of us to notice (I don’t think so). Whatever it was—today, it’s mighty different.

Now I’m not suggesting that the world hasn’t changed or that our kids aren’t growing up a bit faster these days. That’s all true, and has had an impact on the way brands choose to market their products. But if you visit the links below to Burger King ads in the past 20 years, you’ll see an eye-opening transformation.

Breakin’ It Down—The Early Days

  • A BK animated ad from the 60’s—corny but notice the tag line “Burger King—Where Kids are King”. This ad is clearly targeting families with young children. These were the days when the heavy paper gold crown was a sought after premium and kids actually wore them proudly.
  • In the 1970’s, Burger adopted the “Have It Your Way” slogan. Here’s a family-friendly example from 1976.
  • A BK ad from 80’s. This ad promotes shakes to young middle-America kids. The “Shakes-a-Lot” character dons an innocent costume while the Burger King has a real face (not the plastic, oversized, unemotional, eerie one you see in today’s ads). Still targeting families with young children.
  • Moving on to the late 80’s. Again, a family oriented “Pepsi Generation” style ad.
  • Ahh, the 1990’s featuring the church-like Coca-Cola glasses. (We had a few of these at my house.) Still family oriented.
  • A BK Big Kids Meal commercial from around 2000. The target audience has changed slightly toward a hipper “tween”. Still young and innocent enough.

More Recent: The Move to?

  • Jump to 2003 when Crispin Porter took over the King’s campaign. Here comes the attitude and the weird looking King. In this commercial, teens referred to as “Whopper Heads” (playing off of a similarity to “pot heads”) show disrespect to a cop (with attitude of his own—nice).
  • 2008. Really, they needed to slimy-up SpongeBob and Nickelodeon had to let them? Honestly, this is the one that seriously crossed the line for me. They’re promoting a kids meal product targeting 5-10 year olds through tight-shorted, older-than-they-try-to-make-them-look, ass shaking, slutty looking, twenty something’s. And, as the commercial closes, Sir-Mix-A-Lot comments “Booty is Booty.” Yeah, real classy BK.
  • Can it get worse? Unfortunately, it can. Here’s a recent print ad from BK. In this ad, a woman (resembling a blow-up doll) is promoting the “Super Seven Incher” with a headline stating “It’ll Blow Your Mind Away.” In the ad, the woman is opening wide for the big one. The small type goes on to prompt viewers to “Fill your desire for something long and juicy.” There’s more, but, enough said.

If Burger King’s (Crispin Porter’s) goal was to create buzz online—congrats, you’ve done it. People are talking, but I have to wonder about the brand reputation and if there’s damage from any of this.

  • Are there a large number of people who find these ads offensive enough to boycott Burger King?
  • Do sales acquired through this raw style of advertising truly offset lost sales?
  • If not, how quickly will consumers forgive and forget?
  • Does Burger King care that they’re pushing adult messages to a young audience?
  • Is there still a place for innocence in mass marketing or is shock value the rule of the day?

Answers to questions we’ll likely never know, but I personally will be paying attention to BK’s future advertising for subtle changes. It’ll be interesting to see if any changes take place.