Troubled Burger King Launches Ad Campaign

Times Staff Writer

Burger King on Wednesday served up a long-awaited, $150-million advertising campaign that it hopes will attract new customers and undo the damage of a recent streak of forgettable and disastrous ads.

But industry consultants--and even Burger King officials--said the nation’s second-largest fast-food chain needs more than snappy advertising to win back customers. “This campaign is one aspect of what we have to do at Burger King to compete successfully in the ‘90s,” said Chief Executive Barry J. Gibbons.

The Burger King ads, which will debut on television and radio Oct. 4, don’t feature food or fast service. In fact, many of the television and radio spots never show a Burger King restaurant or mention the new slogan--"Sometimes You’ve Gotta Break the Rules"--until the very end.

Instead, most of the TV ads focus on often comical situations that involve teens, night watchmen and the crew of an aircraft carrier. The campaign, which will also include ads tailored to black and Latino consumers, was developed by the New York agencies Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles of New York.

Improving Relationship

Consumers are turned off by more conventional fast-food ads, says Burger King marketing chief Gary L. Langstaff. Consumers, according to Langstaff, said: “We recognize that we have a choice and don’t shout at me about this being the best hamburger. I’ll be the judge.”


The new campaign reflects efforts to improve the “attitudinal relationship” between consumers and the chain, Langstaff said. “We are willing to do what it takes to satisfy you and make every visit to our restaurant pleasurable and memorable,” he said.

The campaign will also include a large radio campaign with music performed by various artists, including Mel Torme, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Tone-Loc.

The upcoming campaign will replace past failures built around such slogans as “We do it like you’d do it” and “Best food for fast times.” Those campaigns have not helped Burger King sales, which have stagnated at about $1 million for each store versus about $1.5 million for industry leader McDonald’s.

Burger King, which was acquired by London-based Grand Metropolitan as part of its 1988 takeover of Pillsbury Corp., will also introduce new restaurant menus and packaging, a new line of double hamburgers and a toll-free number for customer inquiries.

Gibbons said the changes will be part of an ongoing program to correct operational problems that range from slow service to a lack of cleanliness. Gibbons said it does no good to attract new customers if “the restaurant bathroom is dirty.”

Attention to operations is long overdue, analysts said.

“They think that clever and cutesy ads will fix their operations,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a Chicago food industry consulting firm. “Well, advertising won’t.”

‘Buying Time’

William Norton, a Minneapolis-based fast-food consultant, said Burger King has also failed to come up with substantial new offerings and has suffered from a close association with microwave ovens used to reheat meals.

“That’s a definite negative,” said Norton. “Other chains microwave their food, but they don’t do it right in front of your face and make you watch it.”

“I don’t think they have an advertising problem,” said Norton. “I suppose it’s more of an immediate fix for them. They are doing anything they can to keep the boat afloat and buy some time to do other things” that they need to do.