While poking around Burger King’s Web site for my previous post, I came across this 7-minute documercial for their “Whopper Freakout” campaign. The premise is that for two days, a Las Vegas Burger King told its customers that the Whopper had been discontinued; hidden cameras and interviews capture customers’ reactions.
Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.whopperfreakout. posted with vodpod
Parts of the video are unsettling — the toying with customers, the blase way a Burger King employee fakes being a reporter — and it could have done without the sinister background music. But overall this is probably the most effective advertisement I’ve ever seen, for any product.
First of all, it’s funny. At one point, two deadpan customers talk about their surprise: “Burger King doesn’t have the Whopper, they might as well change their name to Burger Queen,” one says; his long-haired buddy processes the joke for 3 seconds and grunt-chuckles, “hyeah!” Another customer is shocked by the second element of the trick: He orders a Whopper, only to find a Wendy’s burger inside the bag. The cashier questions whether the man brought it himself, and the customer huffs back, “I hate Wendy’s!” They couldn’t have asked for a more perfect response if the whole thing were scripted.
It’s also an interesting thought experiment — how would you react if your favorite restaurant stopped serving its biggest item? Consumer products and pop culture change all the time, but the customers’ testimonials reveal a deep comfort provided by the tradition and constancy of favorite foods. In this way, the ad functions as a kind of mini-American studies project. One customer says in voiceover, “When I was a kid, my dad wouldn’t order me a Whopper, because I wasn’t big enough to eat it all. That was one of the things when I got big, and the Whopper — that was like, I was a man.” Another talks about his mom driving him and his siblings to Burger King when they were kids — they got double Whoppers, because “we were big boys.”
Finally, the ad serves as a reminder of the continued power of branding, at least in certain cases. James Surowiecki wrote an interesting article for Wired a few years ago making the case that, contrary to conventional wisdom, brands aren’t nearly as valuable or important as they used to be because consumers are getting ever less loyal. He writes:
A study by retail-industry tracking firm NPD Group found that nearly half of those who described themselves as highly loyal to a brand were no longer loyal a year later. Even seemingly strong names rarely translate into much power at the cash register. Another remarkable study found that just 4 percent of consumers would be willing to stick with a brand if its competitors offered better value for the same price. Consumers are continually looking for a better deal, opening the door for companies to introduce a raft of new products.
This is pretty persuasive when it comes to consumer products — particularly tech products, which are the focus of Surowiecki’s argument. But the Burger King ad — though admittedly anecdotal — shows that in the case of food at least, nostalgia, self-image, tradition, taste and personal narrative may have as much to do with a brand’s success as value and innovation.