Classic campaign #2
How Subservient Chicken ruffled feathers
In this series, we revisit some of our all-time favourite advertising campaigns to explore what made them brilliant then, and what lessons they can offer today. Campaign number 5 is a weird and wonderful poultry-themed campaign from Burger King, reviewed by Dinosaur’s Creative Director, Dan Pitchford.
The chicken before the egg
Back in 2004, a guy dressed in a chicken suit and suspenders was taking online requests from strangers who had logged on to its web page. Sound weird? It was. But it worked.
This was the Subservient Chicken, an online campaign for Burger King. And it was an overnight sensation. Make any request and the chicken would grant it from the comfort of its sparsely decorated living room. You could make it do press-ups, star jumps, moonwalk, hula hoop, anything (as long as it wasn’t x-rated).
In the days before Twitter had hatched or Facebook had graduated from college, Subservient Chicken defined a new genre of online marketing: viral. In doing so, not only did it revolutionise the way advertisers thought about digital engagement, but it galvanised the fortunes of Burger King.
Ruffling a few feathers
At the time, the Burger King brand was on shaky ground. It had changed owners and rebranded unsuccessfully a number of times. In terms of reputation, it was less the king and more the over-ambitious wannabe. In customer polls, it lagged behind its fast-food rivals for quality.
In an attempt to claw back its crown, Burger King decided to invest in better quality ingredients for its Tender Crisp Chicken Sandwich. The new recipe performed really well in trials. So, to capitalise on the opportunity, Burger King assigned its $350 million account to Miami agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky with a brief to make their chicken sandwich the talk of the town.
An online chicken coop d’etat
CP&B had a reputation for controversial and unconventional work. They didn’t disappoint. They revived the brand’s 1974 “Have it your way” tagline but laser-focused the campaign on the twenty-something market segment and created the chicken. This was no easy task. To try and anticipate what people would demand of this fowl, they populated a database with over 1000 different commands, corresponding to 300 separate chicken actions – from air guitar to the YMCA dance.
And to set the ball rolling, they seeded the campaign into online chatrooms (remember them?) and targeted bloggers, backed it up with a few TV slots on late night channels that showed Subservient Chicken doing people’s bidding. In one example, the Subservient Chicken tries on a series of different costumes for the amusement of its ‘master’.
When a campaign grows wings
People loved it. After just one month online, Subservient Chicken had performed its millionth request. The website got over one billion hits in total, making it one of the most successful digital campaigns ever.
Mostly importantly perhaps, it drove double digit growth for the Tendercrisp Chicken sandwich. Burger King’s 21-month sales slide was stopped dead in its tracks and it was soon outperforming McDonald’s.
For Burger King, this was a low budget campaign, but creative genius of the idea meant that it got that most elusive of assists: viral traction. And, of course, the advertising industry was all over it. The campaign picked up some of advertising’s most prestigious awards including four Grand Clio awards, two Cannes Lions and a category win at the London International Advertising Awards
As a classic digital campaign, it ticks all the boxes. A sweet, simple idea that defined a digital genre.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
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Also published on Medium.