Feb 05

Birth and early life: Born sometime in 1955. The King could often be found making balloon animals and doing magic tricks inside (or sometimes in the parking lot of) your local Burger King. The King was also clean-shaven in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, having not yet grown his now-legendary beard.

Rebirth: Was reborn sometime in 2003 when Crispin Porter + Bugowsky, an advertising agency whose clients include not only Burger King, but also Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, Domino’s and Virgin Atlantic Airways, came up with the King when they found an oversized Burger King mask for sale on eBay.

Relatives: The masked King’s closest advertising relative seems to be Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, who takes online commands and allows us “have chicken our way” (the site also features a chicken mask that you can cut out). In case you’re curious, a list of the commands you can have the Subservient Chicken perform is available on Wikipedia.

Purpose in life: According to Crispin Porter + Bugowsky, the Burger King is supposed to remind 18-35 year old males of a “cool uncle—the uncle who tells you how things really are, and lets you get away with a little bit more than your mom and dad do.” It’s unclear what the King is letting slide exactly.

Special appearances: The King has more recently appeared in Burger King’s newest viral marketing campaign, Whopper Freakout (they stopped selling the Whopper, Burger King’s best selling menu item, for a day at one Burger King location, and filmed people’s reactions). Here’s the video:

Psychological profile: While McDonald’s has tried to present its menu as healthier to consumers (I used the word present rather than make, since many of McDonald’s “healthier” items contain as much fat as their burgers and fries — such as their Asian Salad with Crispy Chicken, which has the same fat content as a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese), the King tries to be a hipper interpretation of the dorky corporate mascot.

The spread of this meme is directly attributable to Burger King’s ability to tie the more subtle, tongue-in-cheek humour in its ads to the inside-joke mentality that pervades web memes, leading those on the inside of the joke to form a sort of tribe or community. This very insubstantial community collectively selects memes in an almost subconscious manner — but as we’ve seen in the case of the King, is not above the power of corporate suggestion.

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2 Responses to “Meme profile: the Burger King.”

  1. Stephanie So Says:

    I’m not sure that I would classify the “Burger King” king as a meme. Though it does seem to have started out as some kind of joke (albeit bad one!) within the ad agency who brought it back to the public, I’m not sure that I see the difference between a meme and just some typical marketing gimmick in this case (ie: Ronald Mcdonald or Goodyear Blimp).

    Doesn’t the concept of a corporate meme run counterintuitive to the earlier descriptions that you provide? Isn’t the point of a meme that it essentially takes a life of its own and spreads within a community without the aid of corporate dollars who push their products onto the public?

    Then again, as I re-read this post, I can’t help but feel that I’m likely missing something and am apparently not part of the “Burger King” king community of inside jokes…

  2. Lucas McDonnell Says:

    I think you make a good a point Stephanie. What constitutes a meme is certainly subjective — although in this case, I agree that this was a marketing gimmick, but I disagree that it was a typical one.

    Interesting that you bring up Ronald McDonald (the other big burger mascot of course). Ronald McDonald is a clown who is supposed to entertain children (and let’s be honest, get them to eat fast food). The difference being that Ronald McDonald’s popularity grew from years of diligent marketing and demographic analysis, whereas the Burger King’s popularity grew through the company’s parodical interpretation of its own mascot.

    In the earlier example I provided of ‘Leeroy Jenkins’, the whole World of Warcraft event was completely staged — ‘pushed onto the public’, as you say. CP+B as admitted that they’re targeting an extremely cynical demographic (18-35 year old males), but those are the same males who would see wearing a Burger King mask for Hallowe’en as funny (in an ironic sort of way perhaps).

    This is in fact, how the Burger King has a memetic quality. Burger King has pushed a tongue-in-cheek stab at the traditional corporate mascot — but the real irony is that despite Burger King’s ironical stance, their real motivation is still to get 18-35 year old males to identify with “cool uncle King” — and eat the burgers they sell.

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