Innovation 50: Burger King – the challenger brand that keeps on challenging

Innovation 50: Burger King – the challenger brand that keeps on challenging

Funny, bold, provocative in tone and intent, Burger King’s ads have always stood out.

Despite the fact that the pre-cursor company to the one that became Burger King was launched in 1953, it has played the game of ‘challenger brand’ with relish ever since. Challenger that is, to its obvious rival McDonald’s. And with such aplomb it has been nominated an Innovation 50 company.

Take the ‘Whopper Secret’ of 2019. It made no secret of its rivalry with McDonald’s when it revealed that behind every Whopper in a Burger King ad that year was a Big Mac burger. That’s right – hidden from view because it was smaller than the Whopper.

McDonald’s has been its biggest target over the years. But that same year, it also targeted fried chicken rival chain KFC with its ‘KFG’ ad. It was launching a grilled chicken sandwich; so what did the brand do? ‘KFG’ stood for King of Flame Grilling, and in the ad, a Burger ‘King’ dressed uncannily like one Colonel Sanders announced “the king always outranks the colonel”.

Donald Ferguson, Director, Hope & Glory PR, says, “From sponsoring fourth Division Stevenage FC shirts to landing premium ad space on FIFA 20; liking influencer posts from nine-years-prior – to instigate free brand mentions by said influencers to mark the return of funnel cake fries on the menu – or the consistent trolling of McDonald's via Whopper Detours, Scary Clown Night and the McWhopper – it’s an impressive list to say the least.”

Very Scary Halloween clowns

‘Very Scary’ in 2017 is a case in point too.

It was the year when online pranks in which clowns frightened strangers in lonely nighttime locations were going viral. Statistics showed more people than ever were dressing as clowns on Halloween. So Burger King promised free Whoppers to the first 500 clowns to visit its flagship London outlet on Halloween (‘come as a clown, eat like a king’) in a short online promo film called ‘Very Scary’.

Leicester Square was flooded with clowns that evening.

And in a more categorical snipe at the clown (clearly a McDonald’s reference), #NeverTrustAClown of the same year was based around the horror movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. In Germany, at the movie’s premiere, two spotlights were used before the credits rolled to flash messages: the first, ‘The moral is: never trust a clown’; and the second, the Burger King logo.

The brand has always been taking risks. Great ideas that are on-brand, accomplish strategic objectives and manage to always hit a nerve are the hallmark of what Burger King says to its audience.

Donald says, “What's most impressive of all is that this seemingly disparate mix of ‘stuff’ is ruthlessly single-minded in reasserting BK's ‘challenger brand’ status. Always bold, always innovative, always funny the seamless coalescence of earned and paid comms behind a ‘good idea’ is something you can’t help but admire and applaud.”

Welcome, Burger King, to the Innovation 50.