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MI6 Keynote: 'King' of Burgers Reigns In-Game Ads

MI6 Keynote: 'King' of Burgers Reigns In-Game Ads

May 9, 2007 | By Jill Duffy

May 9, 2007 | By Jill Duffy
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More: Console/PC

Television commercials starring a creepy masked "King" placed somewhere out of context (like a another man's bed) allure viewers with uneasiness. A "Subservient Chicken," a chicken-suited individual, circa 2002, broadcasted himself on what appeared to be live a web cam, and carried out commands from internet users who told him to dance, make a sandwich, lie on the couch, watch TV -- whatever one wanted, he'd do it (within reason, of course; occasionally, he'd wag his finger no-no). And most recently, three little video games starring the King made their way from fast food feed bags to living room Xbox 360s.

These campaigns were all so memorable, no explanation was needed about who and what they were promoting. With more than 460 million hits, the Subservient Chicken's web site has been seen by more than 19 million visitors, who spend an average of 7 minutes per visit.

The three games, Sneak King, Pocket Bike Racer, and Big Bumpin', sold 3.2 million video games in a 6 week period, outpacing sales for World of Warcraft. (See the postmortem article "Advent of Advergaming: Blitz Games' Burger King Games," in the April 2007 issue of Game Developer, and our interview with Blitz's Philip Oliver.) But what these Burger King games were really successful at doing was getting the BK brand in front of the restaurant's target audience for hours, not seconds or minutes -- and letting them pay $3.99 for the privilege.

Russell Klein, Burger King Corporation's president of global marketing, strategy and innovation, is one of the key figures driving these advertisements. He spoke today about the success of Burger King's advertising strategies at the MI6 Conference in San Francisco, appearing as the day's keynote speaker. Klein also today received an MI6 award for Brand Marketing Partner of the Year.

Two of the biggest factors that contributed toward the success of these media campaigns, according to Klein, were first that Burger King Corporation has developed a mindset that "content is king," and second, that the company is unafraid to take risks and stray away from traditional advertising techniques, methods that are not flexible enough to mesh with today's multimedia world, methods that tend to be too scientific.

Quoting both Voltaire and Churchill (in a single 40-minute presentation, no less), Klein emphasized a need to "not hang around for perfection" and to "play for more than you can afford to lose" as a way into making real strides in marketing.

The company, he said, needs "not just talent-taste-makers... but an entire corporate culture of curiosity that's going to separate the good from the great, or the good from the failures."

"60 percent of the information is good to go," Klein said, referring to how Burger King creates new ads. "We don't need to wait for 100 percent of the information... Fail fast. Succeed fast." In addition to having a act-don't-wait mentality, Klein said that the company has realized it should favor what's provocative over what's pleasant. "Nothing tugs like tension," he said.

Provocative content and tension are certainly apt descriptors for what's on the web today. And that's where the Burger King marketing division seems to be learning its lessons: from its audience's content choices and content creations, not its competitor's.

"You have to be comfortable with a risk profile like that," Klein said of the edgy user-generated content prevailing in online pop culture.

"I find more relevance than there is possibility, right now anyway, in the world of networking," said Klein. However, even though "word of mouth has taken over advertising" in influencing purchasing decisions, and even though user-generated content is in excessively high demand, these points still don't quite explain how Burger King convinced its consumers to pay for advertising in the form of the three Xbox 360 games.

In a video clip Klein showed during his presentation, the line: "if you make advertising entertaining enough, people will buy it," represents the mastermind idea behind the campaign, but still doesn't quite explain how it happened. Among all in-game advertising, the Burger King games hold a whopping 7 percent share of voice. From a marketing perspective, this outrageous stronghold may truly be an unexplainable anomaly. Or it could be the payoff of Burger King's risk-taking.

Though Klein admitted he didn't read gaming news regularly, he took a small jab at the self-importance of one game web site, retelling of an encounter with GameDaily's Chris Buffa, in which Buffa chided Klein for not reading the site, allegedly referring is as "being like The Wall Street Journal of the game industry," to which the audience responded with ticklish laughter.

The MI6 Conference, now in its second year and presented by the Association of Electronic Interactive Marketers, is taking place today and tomorrow at the Grand Hyatt, San Francisco. Other speakers at the event include Suzie Reider, chief marketing officer for YouTube; William "Bing" Gordon, Electronic Arts' CCO; Peter Moore, Microsoft's corporate vice president, interactive entertainment business; and George Harrison, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communication for Nintendo of America.

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