Ad Spot: Burger King Without the King

New California Whopper commercial debuts, industry experts weigh in

Burger King's new ad.

Burger King, currently in transition with new management, creative agency and menu updates, unveiled a new marketing campaign last weekend to introduce the chain’s new California Whopper.

The TV spots from the Miami-based chain, which appeared on networks such as ESPN, highlighted Burger King’s signature flame-grilled burger and what it called fresh ingredients, such as avocado, tomato and lettuce. The ads were most notable for what they were missing: The King, Burger King’s longtime marketing mascot.

Nation’s Restaurant News asked menu expert Nancy Kruse of The Kruse Co., industry consultant Dennis Lombardi from WD Partners and Darren Tristano from market research firm Technomic Inc. to weigh in on the new commercial.

View the new TV spot; story continued below.


Kruse, an Atlanta-based menu consultant and columnist for Nation’s Restaurant News, said she liked what she saw over the weekend.

“The new spot is very different from previous BK creative because it makes the product the hero,” she said Monday.

“The emphasis is on freshness from two perspectives: fresh ingredients and fresh prep,” Kruse said. “I think the food photography is truly arresting.”

The new commercial was the debut of Burger King’s new creative agency mcgarrybowen, which took over the brand’s ad campaign from Crispin Porter + Bogusky two months ago. Burger King executives have said during analyst conference calls this year that the burger chain will try to broaden its demographic appeal by showcasing products that will spark interest in users such as mothers and families – away from the typical younger male consumers.

The 12,251-unit burger brand is also testing new menu products, such as fruit smoothies, salads and oatmeal. The new California Whopper is priced at $4.49 and the Whopper Jr. version is priced at $2.19.
“Our consumers tell us they love our great-tasting, high-quality food and that’s exactly what we’re featuring in our new marketing and advertising,” Alex Macedo, Burger King vice president, North America marketing, said in a statement last week.

Technomic’s Tristano said the new ads and the new sandwich have a few things working for it – an emphasis on food quality, which resonates with consumers, as well as ingredients that are perceived as healthful, like avocado.

“Burger King is saying it was time to get back to brass tacks and less gimmicks and characters, with more emphasis on the food and the taste,” Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., said. “They want to distance themselves from what wasn’t working.”

As for food quality and perception, Tristano said Burger King is moving in the right direction.

“A lot of that does resonate with consumers as healthy and fresh. [BK] wants consumers to try that product because they want people to think it’s better for you,” he said.

“They’re also focusing on the one important thing they have and that is the quality of taste of the Burger King product compared against McDonald’s and even Wendy’s,” Tristano said. “Burger King has won so many of these taste tests.”

WD Partners’ Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies for the Columbus, Ohio-based firm, said Burger King’s marketing change may take time to show results.

“It’s an extremely radical departure,” he said. “You don’t know it’s Burger King until two-thirds through the 30-second spot. The first part is bringing attention to the fresh foods.”

“Will the new marketing work? Who knows?” he said. “From my mindset, if they’re to change the image, it will take a continuum of this approach as opposed to promoting one product.”

— Alan Snel