Fried, broiled or grilled, with special sauce or your favorite combination of fixings, a slab of meat on a bun is still a hamburger. MaKing the burgers is easy. The people who work in the highly-competitive, billion-dollar burger business know that the hard part is getting people to buy them.
So how do the burger heavyweights tackle the task? McDonald's has enlisted its ever-smiling clown, Ronald. For years Wendy's featured its folksy founder, Dave Thomas.
After 50 years, Burger King, founded and headquartered in Miami, has called in the King. Russ Klein, Burger King's worldwide head of marketing, who likes to boast, with a mischievous smile, that unlike the friendly persona of Dave Thomas or Ronald McDonald, the King is by design what Klein calls, "a little creepy."
The Creepy King
"One of our mantras at Burger King," said Klein, "is that sometimes it's more important to be provocative than pleasant, and so we very deliberately created a character with a persona that's a bit mysterious and enigmatic."
You may have seen the enigmatic character, complete with crown and sinister smile, featured in television ads, in interactive form on the Internet, and in popular-selling video games. Since he was introduced four years ago, the King has been earning his keep: Sales at Burger King have hit an all-time high, and over the last year the stock price has almost doubled.
Although, it's important to note that despite the King's hard work, McDonald' is still the real burger royalty with sales of $22 billion, 10 times Burger King's revenues. Which is exactly why Burger King tries harder -- and weirder.
"At times you will offend some. We never intend to do that, but the reality is, in a large-scale brand like Burger King that tries to take a point of view to the marketplace with our positioning and with our advertising, sometimes not everything we do is going to be everybody's cup of tea," Klein explained.
No Clowning Around Here
Indeed, the King could never be mistaken for McDonald's smiling, cheerful mascot -- a deliberate move, according to Klein.
"A brand like McDonald's is one that tends to mean more of a regression to childhood, perhaps more of a Disney-esque set of qualities to it. A brand like Wendy's tends to be more paternal, more old-fashioned. … Burger King tends to be all that's good about adolescence, the stormy side, the perhaps somewhat more masculine side."
Advertisements like Burger King's "Manthem," which features a man singing and throwing away fancy, fussy food to have lunch his way -- the Burger King way, speak just to that point. The ad is sung to the tune of Helen Reddy's unforgettable "I Am Woman," with very different words:
I am man, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I'm way too hungry to settle for chick food!
'Cause my stomach's starting to growl,
And I'm going on the prowl,
For a Texas Double Whopper!
"Man that's good!"
Or yes, I'm a guy!
I'll admit I've been fed quiche!
Wave tofu bye-bye!
Now it's for Whopper beef I reach
I will eat this meat.
Chorus (Eat this meat)
'Till my innie turns into an outie!
I am starved! I am incorrigible! And I need to scarf a burger beef bacon jalepeno good thing down!
I am hungry!
(I am hungry)
I am incorrigible!
I AM MAN!
The Texas Double Whopper: Eat like a man. Man.
While the perennial No. 2 in the burger business offers healthier salads and veggie burgers, the core business is big, meaty burgers.
Drew Neisser, president of Renegade Marketing Group, sees a lot to admire in Burger King's subversive, and risky, approach. "What's really interesting to me about the Burger King campaign over the last four years is that they have made a conscious decision to really appeal to a very small segment -- 16- to 25-year-old men -- and said 'We don't care about anybody else out there in the marketing world. We only care about these guys.' "
Risky, true, but those young men are exactly who you'll find at your local Burger King wolfing down a whopper. The marketing kings call this group "Super Fans" because they are so loyal to the king, eating there an average of six times a month. Guys like Mike Bonnassar, 19, who said, "I think McDonald's is a restaurant for everybody. I think Burger King is more of a teenager kind of place."
Homer Simpson, Super Fan
Appealing to that young, male demographic seems to be working, and who speaks to those guys better than television's favorite glutton, Homer Simpson.
John Schaufelberger is in charge of new product development for Burger King. He took "Nightline" into the kitchen of a Burger King franchise to look at the Ultimate Double Whopper.
"This product was designed for Homer, for Homer's taste. We took a look at what we thought Homer would want, and he'd want double meat, double cheese, double bacon. … If he were to be defined, I would say he would be a Super Fan. I would say he's a heavy fast food user and a Burger King customer who really looks for great indulgent burgers like Burger King serves."
A joint marketing campaign to launch the Simpsons movie and Homer's Ultimate Whopper was launched this month -- bringing together the subversive humor of the Simpsons with the creepy King. Klein explained, "It's a great intersection for us. We know that Homer loves to eat and loves to indulge, and the whole concept behind "The Simpsons" series and now the movie has got a certain satire, a certain irony, that's quite consistent with the Burger King brand image."
To make that marriage work, Burger King turned to Crispin, Porter and Bogusky -- a Miami-based advertising agency that has made a name for itself with unconventional ideas. Rob Reilly, creative director at for the Burger King account, said that people respect the edgy ads.
He said: "I think the goal is to be different, and to provide great products and some entertainment and have some, a brand experience beyond just the products."
Different indeed. And according to Burger King, it's not paying anything to enlist Homer -- pairing America's favorite glutton with the sly, mysterious king is simply a marriage of two famous brands. A marriage made in marketing heaven.