I’ve never been a big fan of “The King” – and I don’t mean Elvis Presley, I mean the creepy-looking plastic-mask wearing “King” who has appeared in Burger King’s TV ads for the past several years. We’ve written before about how even though Burger King’s creative got a lot of publicity, it didn’t seem to translate into bigger sales.

Burger King kept focusing its marketing messages to appeal to only one kind of customer – young men and teenagers who were “heavy users” of its product. Meanwhile, McDonald’s continued to outpace Burger King, and other fast food chains carved out niches as delivering higher-quality food for health-conscious consumers.

In the latest twist in the “King” saga, Burger King announced on Friday, Aug. 19 that they’re getting rid of the King as their mascot and (silent) product spokesman. Instead, Burger King’s newest TV ad focuses on fresh ingredients (showing tomatoes and avocadoes being sliced and chopped) and health-conscious menu items like the California Whopper (made with guacamole).

Here are a few thoughts about the new Burger King marketing direction:

  • Is it really relevant to customers? A Burger King spokesperson was quoted as saying that “Our consumers tell us they love our great-tasting, high-quality food, and that’s exactly what we’re featuring in our new marketing and advertising.” Hopefully the new Burger King marketing campaign has been based on sound customer research, not just creative “hunches.”
  • Is it too late? During the past few years, Burger King has become synonymous with goofy “dude humor” and borderline-offensive TV ads (here’s one of the worst examples; a TV spot called “I am Man,” where the protagonist sings, “I’m too hungry to eat ‘chick food.’”) I wonder if they’ll be able to so easily transition to appealing to a wider audience. Have moms (and women of all ages) already tuned out Burger King, in favor of McDonald’s wide variety of offerings like McCafé coffee, fruit smoothies? Has Burger King already surrendered the “health-conscious” position in the market to other chains like Chipotle? Time will tell. But Burger King has a lot of ground to regain.
  • What does “quality” mean? The Burger King marketing VP quoted in QSR Web said that customers love the company’s “high quality” food, but “quality” is a word that has lost all meaning as a marketing term.  As we’ve written before, “quality” has become a cliché. Instead of merely proclaiming “quality,” Burger King needs to do more to show “why” and “how” their products offer quality. For example:
    • Does Burger King offer only fresh guacamole made from avocados in the store, never out of a bag?
    • Can Burger King tell more about its sourcing of tomatoes and lettuce and onions? What is special about the cheese used on the California Whoppers?
    • Could they start making Whoppers from a higher grade of beef, like Hardee’s did with their popular Angus Thickburgers®?

Obviously, Burger King is a big, national fast food chain, so they’re probably never going to be able to offer artisan buns and locally-sourced organic produce – but if Burger King (or any company) wants to sell based on “quality,” they need to get past clichés and get into specifics.

It’s hard to compete in a commodity market like fast food, where customers tend to be highly price-sensitive. But Burger King can do a better job being relevant to customers by focusing on what is really unique about the Burger King customer experience, and proclaiming those messages in its marketing. And at the very least, none of us have to look at that creepy “King” on TV anytime soon!

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