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BK Succeeds! …At Proving Bad Advertising CAN Hurt Business.

Posted by Doug Garnett March - 21 - 2012 - Wednesday

By now, you probably know that Burger King is no longer the #2 fast food chain in the US. Wendy’s has jumped ahead and taken over the second spot.

In truth, many factors play into a change like this – it’s never one thing. An excellent article from the Atlantic discusses the major role product advantages played for Wendy’s (although they too quickly write off other BK problems). (Link Here.)

But among all these realities is a truth we should clearly learn: Advertising can hurt. Because for the past decade, BK advertising has at best wasted their money and at worst driven consumers away.

I’ll offer two thoughts about this.

It Appeared that BK Focused Too Much on a Single Target Market. CPB was BK’s agency during the time of this dramatic drop – when even store consolidations couldn’t increase per-store sales. Their work was targeted at young men. And, applying all their full ultra-hip creativity, CPB pushed the envelopes of taste and decorum (because, after all, young men are brainless…an assumption that probably deserves a future post).

But there’s a huge gap in that strategy. Maybe young men make up a massive portion of BK sales – far beyond their portion of the US population. So let’s exaggerate it and suggest they make up 50% of BK revenue.

Unfortunately, that means BK’s business depends on another 50%. So a strategy that focuses too highly on this narrow male target can easily offend and drive away half of consumers. Any nice growth of 10% among men is quite easily off-set by a drop of 20% among the remaining audience.

Interestingly, Byron Sharp’s work shows that large brands become large by appealing to a wide target market – not by narrowly focusing on the most loyal. This truth may also explain the failings of BK strategy – I’d be interested to hear what Byron would offer.

The Creepy King Drove Families Away. BK had used their king cartoon character for years. He was a bit dorky if you’re not a 3 to 10 year old. But, he really wasn’t targeted to anyone else. And while I thought he was dorky, my kids while in the 3 to 10 year old range appreciated him and enjoyed the crown menu’s and other give-aways. In other words, the old one worked.

So what does CPB do? Throw out the friendly and accepting king and replace him with the creepy king. To me, CPB’s king looked like a child molester with his greyish skin, malnourished, creepy smile. Like a malformed college mascot.

I doubt that the king attracted business from young men. And there’s no question in my mind that he drove away families with this emotional underpinning of disgust. In other words, they advertised in a way that offended many loyal (and high profit) customers. (I’d love to get my hands on hard numbers to see what details they might show and what they might add to these conjectures.)

Never Forget that Advertising Can Cause Business to Drop. Far too many in the ad biz think anything goes as long as you have cool ads. I think this is bolstered by the hard-to-kill idea that “it doesn’t matter what they’re saying as long as their talking about you”. (This idea continues no matter how many clear examples show otherwise.)

To find the truth, go ask Tylenol how they feel about that idea. Go ask Toyota when they lose their international #1 role this year to VW/Audi. Go ask Quizno’s whose franchisee’s revolted after seeing business drop from dumpster diving hamster ads. And certainly go ask the BK executives who lose their jobs for this drop to third place.

So advertise well…and advertise with care. What you say and how you say it matters tremendously.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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Doug Garnett, DRTV and Technology Industry Expert

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of DRTV agency Atomic Direct and a leading expert on innovative uses of DRTV, infomercials and other in-depth TV and non-TV messages to build brand and drive sales.

Doug has been working in and around the technology field for 27 years. After starting in aerospace, he spent 5 years selling and marketing supercomputers. Since shifting to advertising, his clients have included AT&T, IBM, Apple, Disney Mobile, Ugobe, Presto, and Netpliance.

Doug sits on the editorial board of Response Magazine, is an adjunct professor of general advertising at Portland State University, and is a member of the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet Panel.

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