GLOBAL BRIEF: Burger King leans on APL New York as sales slump - The ’battle of the burgers’ in the US means tension at agencies, Karen Yates says

Forget Star Wars, it’s the burger wars that are providing the hottest entertainment in the US this autumn, and last week’s cannon fodder was provided by Ammirati Puris Lintas New York, or, more particularly, its latest brand-building ads for Burger King.

Forget Star Wars, it’s the burger wars that are providing the

hottest entertainment in the US this autumn, and last week’s cannon

fodder was provided by Ammirati Puris Lintas New York, or, more

particularly, its latest brand-building ads for Burger King.



Competition has never been fiercer in America’s cluttered fast food

market, and the two beefiest burger slingers, McDonald’s and Burger

King, have been slugging it out with special promotions, new products

and a tireless string of ads on the small screen.



However, Burger King’s latest commercials have not been well received,

prompting its president, Paul Clayton, to criticise his agency in the

trade press. There was even talk of the latest ads being pulled,

although this was later denied by Burger King. (’We just don’t know

whether they will run any more,’ a spokesman said.)



Such shots across the bow happen all the time, of course. A word in a

speech here, a line allegedly taken out of context there. The message

gets across but can be retracted for posterity later. But in this

instance, the Burger King PR machine has not backed down. The message to

APL was clear: we are not going to fire you, but you’d better sharpen up

your act.



So what crass monstrosities inspired such a public washing of the

laundry?



One commercial features two men attempting to stare each other down

while the ultimate distraction - a Whopper - is placed before them. One

caves in under the pressure, and then we find that the winner was only

able to keep his cool because of a Whopper patch on his arm to reduce

his craving.



The second spot shows a ’Whoppermobile’ touring around making hamburgers

to order and thus irritating other local vendors.



No Grand Prix winners then, but surely not worth a public fist

fight?



So why the fuss? One answer, perhaps, lies with Burger King’s previous

campaign, the phenomenally successful ’food and music’, a version of

which is now running here. ’Food and music’ was a highly efficient

campaign.



’It was a hard act to follow,’ Jim Allman, the chairman of APL New York,

concedes.



Secondly, the new work’s architect at Burger King, James Watkins,

recently quit for a chief executive role elsewhere, thus leaving the

company at a critical time in its history, and the new campaign with no

internal champion. Not only that, but sales figures are not as promising

as they once were. Wall Street estimates a decline of 5 per cent at

Burger King in like-for-like sales in the second half of the fiscal year

while, in contrast, McDonald’s sales are put at 4 to 5 per cent up.



So the pressure has been building. Moreover, it is a business driven

less by the centre than by its powerful franchisees, some of whom run as

many as 100 Burger King outlets. There is, of course, no smoke without

fire. But Clayton’s sabre-rattling looks as much addressed to his

franchisees as it was to the agency. And the message runs something like

this: ’I am doing something about flagging sales, honestly.’



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