A Burger King among men

Jamie Oliver must be crying into his organic vegetables. Burger King, hit by falling UK sales, has embarked on a new marketing drive for its Double Whopper burger which blithely ignores the healthy eating debate.

The burger chain’s “Mantham” ad, created by US ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, launched last week. It is a paean to all things manly, with men swearing they won’t touch “chick food” while singing a song called “I am man”. It has already been screened in the US and the only concession to the UK audience is an English voice at the end saying: “The Double Whopper. Man that’s a lot of meat.”

Burger King appears confident it can take advantage of the fact that healthy eating isn’t as popular as some believe. Only this week a BBC survey revealed that the take-up of school meals in England has fallen by 5.9%, with most local authorities blaming Oliver’s campaign for healthier school dinners. It seems the backlash against healthy eating is under way.

Blokes are back
“2006 has already seen the arrival of ‘bloke Coke’, and with tongue firmly in cheek Burger King now celebrates the ‘bloke burger’,” says David Kisilevsky, Burger King’s senior marketing director for North-west Europe.

But could it all backfire? Already the Children’s Food Campaign has complained about the ad and called for stricter regulation. Richard Watts, its campaign co-ordinator, says it “clearly encourages excessive consumption and undermines the healthy eating messages of parents, schools and the Government”.

The Burger King campaign mirrors the chain’s successful approach in the US where it launched the Stacker Quad earlier this year, containing layers of meat and cheese. It packs in 1,000 calories, but with fries and drink the meal can reach 1,990 calories – the recommended daily intake for women and 80% of it for men.

US approach needed
The chain’s latest sales figures indicate why it has adopted the US campaign over here. While sales at most of its 11,100 restaurants around the world are doing well, the UK is a notable exception.

In the three months to the end of September overall revenues hit an all-time high of $546m (£287.9m). Sales in the US and Canada were up by 2.6% year on year but outside the Americas they were down 0.7%, with the UK the weakest link.

Chief executive John Chidsey claimed that overall this added up to “the resurgence of the Burger King brand”. He attributed the growth to, among other things, menu changes and more restaurants opening.

The company says that falling UK sales are “primarily driven by perceptions about obesity and food-borne illness and increased competition from new restaurants that are diversifying into healthier options.”

As well as menu changes, Chidsey has promised innovative marketing and sponsorships to improve the company’s fortunes in the UK.

By comparison, rival McDonald’s with more than 30,000 restaurants, is stretching its lead. Quarterly sales are up 5.8% compared to last year. After shutting UK restaurants a few years ago, it has turned itself around by offering food perceived as healthier.

Paul Gunning, managing director of Tribal DDB’s Chicago office who works for McDonald’s in the US, believes the healthy eating debate will not die down. “I think it’s here to stay. We think McDonald’s strategy of offering a choice is the right way,” he says.

The Burger King ad could prove that wrong, but if it’s too successful it could lead to tighter regulation.