Cheeseburgers in Cyberspace

By , 9 January, 2009, No Comment

If there’s one analysis of viral marketing that has really stuck with me, it’s a post my former colleague Burt Helm wrote at Brand New Day in July 2007. He traced the multiple impressions–roadside stands, banner ads, marketing-only websites, special promos, YouTube! videos, a radio soundtrack–it took to persuade him to buy a Wendy’s Baconator! In part, it sticks with me because Burt was my cubicle neighbor, so I got a nice whiff of Wendy’s fast food grease the day he ordered from them.

I thought of that post, and that smell, again today when I read about a new project, this time on behalf of Burger King’s Whopper. We’ll get to the campaign in a second, but first a quick comparison of the advertising interface itself. There’s a mini website, and a promotional deal, but so far no big adverts or street displays. The website is far more understated than the complex design-your-own-burger page set up by Wendy’s last year, and there are few platform’s targeted.

Now Wendy’s and BK are competing for a similar audience of 18-25 year olds, but that audience has dramatically shifted in its attitudes to social media in the time between the campaigns. Where Burt, or I, or our peers were all gung-ho about social media in 2007–more impressions, more platforms was always better–the tide has now turned, with young people annoyed by the frenzy and lack of control that has infiltrated networks like Facebook as they’ve opened up to adult users and corporate sponsors. The personal, intimate connection with real world peers that drew most of us to these networks is fading. Facebook’s not so useful when you have all kinds of ‘friends’ you would never really want to call or see in person cluttering your news feed with their minute-by-minute updates.

THAT’s the key insight, in fact, behind the BK campaign, called the Whopper sacrifice. Realizing that young people are now losing interest in Facebook, BK is offering a Whopper to anyone who will delete 10 friends. In a clever little twist, they’re using a Facebook app to do it.

Put the two campaigns together and you realize what they share is the symbiosis between fast food retailers and adolescent cultures. That’s nothing new: Al’s diner on Happy Days, anyone? Indeed, new technologies aside, there’s a lot in the digital environment that echoes the analog age.

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