Burger King’s glorious new ad plays chicken with the machines

We can only imagine what AI will mean for the marketers of tomorrow. But for today, it means this wonderfully funny Burger King campaign, writes WiTH Collective's Steve Coll.

My uncle had a phrase for the serial runners-up in major golfing tournaments, and I never understood it properly until I started working in advertising. (Golf, btw, is the perfect Irish sport for two key reasons. One, you can play in the rain. Two, with the invention of the 19th hole, drinking is part of the game.)

“He’s just a bloody Avis man!” he’d exclaim.

At the time, Avis was famously number two and trying harder.

While my uncle was unimpressed with a perceived lack of ambition from Avis, I’ve come to believe that number two has many advantages. To be clear, I’m not talking about big brands with a firm mission to do nothing, lest it disrupt their hold on the coat-tails of the market leader. No, I mean the upstarts, the true challengers, what you might call the ‘Prince Harry’ brands, unburdened of the duties and responsibility of leadership, so they can shamelessly and gleefully buck expectations – simply because it works.

Like Burger King.

For years, Burger King has revelled in the role of the rebel. Regularly pranking its own customers and sharing their humiliation with the internet. Running ads that show the charred remains of its burnt-down stores. Hijacking Google Home in the Superbowl. And overtly supporting causes, such as marriage equality, which one presumes would not play well with its entire base, especially the more conservative mid-western states.

As a result, the Burger King brand successfully spreads far beyond its media budget and into culture, waving two impish fingers all the way.

And it seems to be working. At their Cannes Lions presentation “how to suck less as a client”, the marketing team talked to the incredible success their challenger brand has had in generating attention, competing with Trump and Kendall Jenner horror show Pepsi ad in some of the most talked about internet topics for the year. It seems to be working at the tills too. Forbes suggests that for all the complications of the fast-food category, this strong brand is enjoying equally strong growth. It seems a culture that supports taking risks pays off.

Which brings us to their latest instalment. A superb campaign where Burger King takes aim at the current holy-grail of marketing, AI.

In marketing, there’s no end to the potential of AI. As a classically opportunistic bunch, we’re salivating over a future-world where AI and machine-driven interaction persuades all of humanity to buy our brands. Our media takes a different view of the potential of AI, forecasting our machine-led future with shrill foreboding. Each day brings news of yet another segment of human endeavour that machines will soon dominate. (And for anyone who thinks creative jobs are safe, machines are already cooking like the world’s top chefs, and writing more widely read new headlines than experienced journalists).

It’s the perfect bubble to burst for this culturally savvy brand.

And Burger King does it gloriously. Each new ad starts with an old dial-up modem and a super that proudly proclaims: “This ad was created by artificial intelligence.” Then, rather than revealing an erudite example of machine learning, a too-fast, robotic-sounding VO clunks through a hilariously inept VO. “The chicken crossed the road to become sandwich. Burger King encouraged the chicken,” says the voice. “The Whopper lives in a bun mansion, just like you,” it chirps. The ads are, of course, written by a very human creative team, and one very much in tune with culture and playing on our view of the future.

Burger King’s global head of brand marketing, Marcelo Pascoa maintains: “Artificial intelligence is not a substitute for a great creative idea coming from a real person.”

True. But I feel like most of us would perhaps add a nervous ‘for now’!

So, for now, let’s enjoy seeing a true challenger brand in full flight, bucking convention, helping us laugh at ourselves. With Burger King, the classic quote from The Wild One springs to mind, when Marlon Brando is asked “What are you rebelling against?” and he coolly replies, “Dunno. Whaddya got?”

It deserves to be celebrated. At least until the machines travel back in time to wipe these ads, and their impudent creators, out of existence.

Steve Coll is chief creative officer and partner at WiTH Collective.


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