In Defense of Fries King


“Do something, dammit. Even if it’s wrong.”

The above quote was something that my father would say to me at times when I was mired in indecision or inaction, especially if I was holding him up in the process. Being someone who has always tended to overthink things, “paralysis by analysis” is a trap that I’m prone to fall into sometimes. When it happens, I force myself to heed my father’s advice.

That autobiographical diversion has something to do with Burger King. Trust me.

As you may be aware, Burger King recently unveiled a new, supposedly healthier variety of french fries called Satisfries. As part of their promotional effort for the new product, the chain claimed that is was changing its name to Fries King.

Predictably, the name-change publicity stunt generated a lot of news and opinions from pundits in both the industry press and the mainstream media. Adweek weighed in by pointing out that the campaign confused people and implied that the burgers weren’t very good. Business Insider posited that the rebranding could be a “total waste of time,” due to a strategy that some felt was off-target. Time ran a piece called “The Web Hates Burger King’s Fake Name Change,” focusing on consumer backlash and confusion over the change, as expressed on social media.

While the Fries King name-change doesn’t strike me as especially clever or innovative, the aforementioned buzz in the news and on social media is proof that it was an effective publicity effort. For that reason, I think that the critics are a bit premature in dumping on the Fries King campaign. If people are taking to social media to express skepticism or confusion, that at least means that they are talking about the brand. When was the last time anybody really talked about Burger King?

Let’s face it — the Burger King brand has been a bit stagnant in recent years. Long thought of as the perennial Number Two to McDonald’s, the chain was in fact only fifth among quick service restaurant chains in U.S. sales in 2012 according to QSR Magazine. The same source lists Burger King as a distant third behind McDonald’s and KFC outside of the U.S. Add to that the industry-wide woes of rising commodity prices and an increasingly health-conscience public that is growing dubious about fast food in general, and Burger King is in an unenviable strategic position.

And it’s not like it’s a disastrously bad marketing communications effort, especially compared to the brand’s long history of advertising campaigns that have been, at various turns, banalbafflingdesperate or disturbing. The Fries King campaign mostly avoided those pitfalls. (If it sounds like I’m giving Burger King credit for simply not falling flat on their ass like they have in the past, it’s because I am. Baby steps. Baby steps.)

In short, Burger King is in danger of slipping further into also-ran-status in its category. It’s not about the fries, it’s about staying visible in a crowded landscape. Burger King needed to remind us all that they’re still around and trying new things. How they did that, exactly, was less important than figuring out some way to break through the clutter and get our attention, even for just a few days. That’s a tall order in 2013, even for a 60-year-old brand with a global presence. The Fries King campaign accomplished those objectives, at least.

Burger King did something, dammit. It remains to be seen if it was wrong.

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