Burger King Hen Whets Chicken Yen

  |  April 16, 2004   |  Comments

The normally staid burger giant does the funky chicken on an offbeat Web site that's become a viral marketing phenomenon.

A plucky Burger King Web site has racked up 46 million hits in one week and inspired countless blog entries, one hack and at least one wiki. Ladies and gentlemen -- or rather, teens, twentysomethings and Missing Men -- it's Subservient Chicken.

The site, at subservientchicken.com, features a chicken-suit-garbed human embodying the classic BK tagline, "Have it your way." In a nod to adult "cam" sites, users type in commands and the bird obeys. Visitors are eating it up -- and, Burger King hopes, consuming large quantities of its TenderCrisp chicken sandwich as well. The site is part of an integrated campaign for the new product.

"It was important to us to get to the elusive adults in their early twenties and thirties, the 18- to 34-year-old men, the so-called missing men who aren't watching TV," said Blake Lewis, a spokesperson for Burger King, which is controlled by Texas Pacific Group. "This audience embraces the Internet." Lewis said the site got 46 million visits between its launch Wednesday, April 7 and the following Wednesday.

Knowing that the younger group is resistant to traditional ads, Burger King used an offbeat, interactive Web site to suck them in. More and more advertisers are turning to countercultural methods including blogs and online videos to pursue an audience that is increasingly scarce as hen's teeth.

Not all these projects have been successful. Last year, Dr. Pepper showered teen bloggers with gifts and indoctrinated them on how to blog its new Raging Cow beverage. The plot backfired, with a well-publicized boycott and global media covering the debacle.

But recent ventures such as a Web-only four-minute video ad featuring Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman promoting American Express have done better. The Seinfeld video had an average of 19,500 visitors each day between March 30 and April 7, according to comScore Networks.

If Burger King's latest numbers are any indication, though, Subservient Chicken has a shot at ruling the roost, with 6 to 8 million daily visitors. Average visits last between 7 and 9 minutes. And a Google search on "subservient chicken" yielded about 16,000 results this week. Perhaps the ultimate symbol of the campaign's viral nature is the sites private individuals have developed around it.

There's a wiki with a list of things the chicken will and won't do, the Subservient Chicken Request List. There's a site that's reverse-engineered so users can get the chicken to do, er, naughty things. (The original chicken shakes an admonishing finger when asked to perform such actions, though it will moon the viewer given the appropriate command.)

And that's probably the charm of the whole thing, Lewis believes -- trying to figure out what commands the chicken obeys.

Lewis isn't sure how the company came up with the idea (or maybe he's afraid to say). The site is part of a campaign designed by Crispin Porter + Bogusky for the TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. Three thirty-second TV commercials featuring the URL for the site are currently running on MTV, Comedy Central, Spike and BET. The same chicken is featured in a grainy home-movie setting, with twentysomethings issuing orders to dance, walk, and sit down and so forth.

"The spots are typically very late cable programming aimed toward the 20- and 30-year-old young adults," Lewis noted. Asked how long the campaign will run and when the Submissive Chicken site will go down, Lewis said, "It goes down when it goes down. It's all about being counterculture, hip and with a little bit of attitude. What has made this campaign work is a certain degree of mystery."

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Janis Mara

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