A kingdom seeks magic . . . Burger King’s quirky ads attract a cult following, if not many more sales
If Burger King has its way, young moviegoers in the next year or so will flock to theaters to see Above the King, a comedy about a teen misfit, who just happens to live in an apartment over a Burger King restaurant, and his unlikely friendship with an aristocrat.
The company, which plans to spend $5 million making the quirky flick, hopes for the cult appeal and success of Napoleon Dynamite, a 2004 low-budget hit about an adolescent oddball. Burger King’s celluloid dreams — this is but one idea — are being shopped to Hollywood studios by executive producer Christopher Moore, co-producer of Good Will Hunting. If it gets made, it is likely to be the first mainstream film written and produced by a marketer and its ad agency, and it is part of what Russell Klein, Burger King’s head of marketing, calls “an allout full gallop to catch up with our consumer.”
Burger King’s scramble is centered on wacky advertising and new-media initiatives. The company proudly trumpets its traditional, fat-soaked fare on TV, cell phones and popular Web sites aimed at “Super Fans” — mostly young men who pop into fast-food restaurants 16 times a month on average. The current emphasis on marketing is reminiscent of its big ad push several decades ago: Burger King has even revived its 1974 tagline, “Have it your way,” which Klein believes resonates with tech-savvy burger fans.
Its mascot is back, too. The current king, an updated version of a 1960s character, is a mute guy with a gigantic plastic mask, frozen-in-place smile, bejeweled crown and wine-colored robe. This fellow has appeared in 24 weird TV commercials — in one spot, a fast-foodie is surprised to wake up with the king in his bed — and an animated version will soon star in three videogames.
The fast-food company is spending upwards of $5 million to develop games for Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles. As early as next month gamers will be able to compete with its mascot on motorcycle speedways and in bumper car rides in games that will be sold in Burger King outlets for $4 with the purchase of a meal.
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The king gets around. Its mascot has his own profile on MySpace.com, the popular social-networking Web site where 133,355 profiles are linked to his. These supposed fans, mostly guys, write things like “I love you! I want you. …” and “Dude, you rock!” Also on MySpace, Burger King has been among the first advertisers to sponsor free content downloads, offering episodes of the Fox series 24. Meanwhile, on Heavy.com, a site with user-created videos, there are amateur clips with people wearing the king’s mask. (In one, a guy in a king costume who appears to be in his 20s drives up to a McDonald’s and repeatedly asks for a Whopper, frustrating the order taker.)