Burger King Revamp: The Chain May Be in for a PR Whopper
Adele Cehrs, President, Epic PR Group
Burger King is dusting off its crown. As reported in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, the ailing company is revamping itself – something that has not been done at this magnitude since that chain started in 1954. It’s a big undertaking, which some say is long overdue. The campaign will include a full-scale renovation; new menu items and the chain’s biggest marketing spend – ever.
The initiative includes:
- Renovating restaurants across the country to include more modern furniture, at a price of approximately $275,000 per store. Additionally, Burger King will be relisting on the NYSE in the coming months.
- The chain’s new menu will now offer 10 additional items including: smoothies, frappe coffees, chicken strips and snack wraps. Many, however, are criticizing the company, saying that the new menu is a reflection of products McDonald’s introduced years ago.
- TV ads featuring celebrities like David Beckham, Jay Leno, Salma Hayek and Mary J. Blige hit the air. The Blige spot received some stark criticism shortly after it was rolled out for being prejudice against African Americans, which made the commercial go viral on Monday, April 2 (here’s a Forbes’ piece analyzing the uproar). By Tuesday, the ad was pulled. Clearly, Burger King didn’t take into account how strongly consumers would feel about stereotyping.
In the age of transparency, corporate consumer-sensitivity needs to be a top priority when a company is trying to change consumer perceptions. BK’s recent PR slip up could have devastating consequences that may ripple through the repositioning campaign for some time to come.
We call this phenomenon the bounce effect. This effect can be seen when a controversial story moves from social media to traditional media and back again (not necessarily in that order). What makes a story bouncy? Three key elements include mass appeal, a human-element and controversy. This story has it all.
Naturally, some stories are bouncier than others and when a brand is spending a significant amount of money on advertising and visibility – like BK – it may be difficult for its internal and external PR people to take a step back and rethink a crucial element in any successful PR, advertising or marketing campaign: TIMING.
By starting the campaign on a bad note with consumers, no offense to Mary J., the brand may have very little influence to change perceptions and the marketing efforts may be wasted.
The ingredients for this flame broiled disaster: Criticism from the Mary J. Blige commercial controversy, consumers’ heightened awareness via social media and traditional media and an opposition strategy from a major competitor.
Now, you can’t blame McDonald’s for subtly fueling this controversy by claiming that Burger Kings is copying McDonald’s menu options. In fact, we should actually commend McDonald’s PR team. They saw a golden opportunity to use a competitor’s misfortune to its advantage and as a result they are receiving indirect press attention from it.
In today’s saturated media market timing is everything – and if consumers have been exposed to a controversy at first blush – they are hard-pressed to forget it. Contrary to popular belief – not all press is good press.
Other brands can learn from BK’s misstep by understanding when they need to reevaluate a repositioning strategy. Even when the campaign is in full progress, sometimes the best approach is to stop and minimize the damage. Then, re-launch the initiative when the timing is right.