King’s dead. Long live anarchy.


They say at Burger King's former advertising agency, Crispin Porter Bogusky, the creative brief—the assignment—is delivered in the form of a potential P.R. release for the project: everything that agency did was supposed to be buzzworthy. That's pretty cool, unless, I guess, you're a stick-in-the-mud franchisee who doesn't believe that buzz delivered with a sack full of hipster irony is what you need right now.

As Crispin Porter Bogusky’s final groundbreaking feat of unusualness rotates slowly into history on DirectTV, I’d like to say a few words at the funeral of the Burger King brand they built the hard way.

I say they built it the hard way because they used an incredible amount of energy muscling through brilliant and unusual ideas—and eventually, they established that Burger King meant for you to see them as the smarter, smart-ass younger brother of the responsible McDonald’s, schizophrenic Wendy’s and vaguely do-gooder Subway stores lined up side-by-side next to them at the interstate village.

They had a personality. They had a ton of great ideas. They had style.

But I don’t think they ever developed a voice that was as useful selling a short-lived promotion as it was asserting overall branding concepts. From Whopper Freakout to the ongoing King Weirdness to Subservient Chicken—still a high-water mark in digital lore—they made their brand about dramatic, huge, buzzworthy ideas. And did it well.

Remember the Whopper Virgins travelogue? Have you visited their “customizable” site? They made everything more special than a trip to that dirty, vaguely dangerous-seeming restaurant in my hometown deserved. (Our Burger King always seems like it might be about to be robbed.)

Meanwhile they were tasked with pitching products.

Some were as brilliantly named as the larger efforts: I particularly admire “Angry” for the spicy line. But then, here’s how they spoke about The Angry Tendercrisp and The Angry Original Chicken Sandwich:

“Tender, premium breaded white meat chicken filet topped with sizzling bacon, Pepper Jack cheese,deliciously spicy jalapenos, angry onions and our signature angry sauce. It’s a TENDERCRISP® with a kick.”

Granted, menu copy description is not the place to hoot it up. But their voice—vital to a campaign built on aggressive whimsy—often failed them at the last second.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a lot of that campaign. I love a lot of the voice that they used in-store and on packaging, which was essentially the voice they used to introduce BMW’s Mini to America. It’s a smart, funny way of making me use my brain gladly.

But I think, in the end, it still struck America as a frenetic series of great ads, events, and digital ideas, rather than a genuine brand. I don’t think we ever bought that the intelligence behind a lot (not all) of the materials reflected what was going on at BK HQ.

Or maybe everything was effective and the franchisees were just sticks in muds.

Either way, I predict the brand is going to fall into a bunch of unrelated little pieces without CPB. Depose a king in a vacuum of power, and you get anarchy. Let’s watch.

Damn. DAMN. I respect and love the detail of engaging me at the fountain with "recipes" for mixing the drinks. That voice instantly pulls BK out of "just another fast food joint" and into "friend." Unfortunately, the place I took this photo was just a fast food joint. I hate the end of this story.