Thu May 1, 2014
Burger King's Subservient Chicken Is Back
Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 12:19 pm
After a 10-year hiatus, Burger King is bringing its Subservient Chicken ad campaign back.
The fast food chain struck advertisement gold when they introduced the Subservient Chicken character, a man dressed in a chicken costume who was featured in commercials and an interactive website.
People would go onto the website and type in commands for the chicken to perform, like jumping jacks, push-ups and dance moves.
The campaign was to promote Burger King’s TenderCrisp sandwich. The fast food restaurant is reintroducing the campaign, along with its new Chicken Big King sandwich.
John Carroll, Here & Now’s media analyst, joins Jeremy Hobson to talk about the success Burger King had with its campaign a decade ago and the goal of this new campaign.
- John Carroll, Here & Now media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University. He tweets @johncarroll_bu.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Today, Taco Bell's CEO Greg Creed was named the new chief executive for the chain's parent company, Yum Brands, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut. And the move comes amid stiff competition in the fast food industry. Burger King, for its part, is hoping it can stand out with a re-launch of a marketing campaign that is a decade old. It's called Subservient Chicken.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIALS)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Our story begins here at Burger King, where 10 years ago one subservient chicken became an internet sensation. Do some squats, lift your legs, grab your groin. He did whatever millions of people told him to do, and for that they loved him.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: People can't say no to the chicken that can't say no.
Everybody wants a piece of Subservient Chicken.
HOBSON: Well, joining us now to explain is HERE AND NOW media analyst John Carroll. John, welcome back.
JOHN CARROLL: Nice to be here.
HOBSON: And take us back to the original 10 years ago. This was pre-YouTube, by the way, and pre-a lot of social media. Why was this so popular online?
CARROLL: It was an interesting time, because it was really web 2.0 coming to the fore. And people were essentially interacting with the web in a way that they hadn't done before. So it had this sort of cache. It had this newness. It had this sort of engagement factor that people really took to.
HOBSON: Well, let's take a listen to a clip from that. This is from 10 years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Put on that vest. Not that one.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Chicken, just the way you like it.
HOBSON: So, basically, people are able to go on there and tell this subservient chicken what to do.
CARROLL: Right this is all part of their, have it your way slogan. It was a play off that. And what they had done was they had this guy in a chicken suit, and they prerecorded about 400 different actions that he took. And so people though that they were making the chicken do it in real time, but basically it was all staged. It was all set up in advance.
But it had a real immediacy to it that people really took to.
HOBSON: It got 100 million hits in the first two weeks after the launch.
CARROLL: That's what Burger King says, yeah. So, I think that this was something that was sort of a viral phenomenon. It was one of the most popular campaigns on the internet at that point. And even to this day.
HOBSON: Well, so, what about this new ad campaign that they've put out, bringing us back to that, is it popular? What are they trying to do now?
CARROLL: Well, they're sort of trying to catch lightening in a waddle, so to speak. They're trying to recreate this. They have a new chicken sandwich. Chicken is really the battleground for the fast food industry. Things are pretty stagnant for Burger King and a whole lot of fast food chains. So chicken is the place where they think they can make the most gains. They're bringing this chicken sandwich back, its 10 year anniversary.
They have tried to create this sort of viral sensation, or recreate it. It hasn't worked out quite as well I don't think as they were hoping. I looked at Twitter, and checked out the hashtag findthechicken and hashtag @findthechicken. This was all about the chicken disappearing. That's how they introduced it on Sunday with newspaper ads in about 10 newspapers.
Where's the chicken, it doesn't seem to have been a real hit on Twitter as far as I can tell. The video that came out yesterday was the chicken reappearing. It's about his rise and fall and rise again. He was down and out, he was on the street, he was ready to do anything for a quarter.
And then all of the sudden he comes back. He's fit and trim. And he's in a trailer that's shooting a commercial and he refuses to come out of the trailer because he doesn't want to be bossed around anymore.
HOBSON: So, John, take us into the world of advertising now. Is it possible to manufacture buzz?
CARROLL: It's possible, but it's really tough. There's a lot of serendipity involved in this, and you never know what's going to grab people, and what's not. And what's going to accelerate it and what's not. Every marketer in the universe wants a viral campaign.
CARROLL: They go to their ad agencies and say, make me a viral campaign. It's really difficult to do, because you never know what combination of circumstances is going to make something take off. So this is doing okay. The video they released yesterday called Redemption: The Other Side of the Road has gotten maybe, you know, 1.8 million views in the first 24 hours.
I'm not sure that's going to get up to 100 million views in two weeks the way the original subservient chicken website did. But we'll see. I think that's not bad, but it's very hard to sort of recapture that magic that happens who knows why.
HOBSON: But this is what's going on in the world of advertising now. This is what everybody wants to do. It's not about going through the traditional media. You want to just strike the jackpot and make something go viral.
CARROLL: Right. TV advertising is never going to go away. It's always going to there. It's always going to be the way to reach the most people. But to have something that is sort of organic, that is sort of consumer fueled is the dream of every marketer. And so they're going to keep trying, and they're going to be on social media, they're going to be on Twitter, they're going to be on Facebook.
They're going to all those places to try to capture some kind of magic momentum that's generated by consumers.
HOBSON: Meanwhile, you say the chicken is new battleground in the world of fast food. I keep seeing this ad where there are all these people named Ronald McDonald who want to get a waffle taco from Taco Bell.
CARROLL: Right. Breakfast is also a battleground. And McDonalds is the target. I mean, they're basically the sitting duck for a whole bunch of different fast food chains.
HOBSON: And they're also thought of as geniuses in the world of advertising even though often all the ad is a picture of a Big Mac.
CARROLL: They have been, yeah. And so it's going to be interesting to see if they respond to these sort of broadsides that are coming from the other chains.
HOBSON: HERE AND NOW media analyst John Carroll, also a mass communication professor at Boston University. And we've got a link to his Campaign Outsider blog at our website hereandnow.org. John, thanks.
CARROLL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.