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The Power of the Mascot.

April 30, 2014

Ronald McDonaldLast week’s makeover of Ronald McDonald (seen here) got me thinking about my favorite restaurant mascot, the King, and how I miss seeing his glossy, plastic face in commercials. From the moment I heard about Burger King dethroning their infamous mascot — choosing to focus on freshness instead of capitalizing on what the King offers — I knew they had made a bad decision. What does the King offer you ask? Like most mascots, the King offers the wiggle room to do or say something that no real person could ever get away with. Other than Jack in the Box, Burger King was the only quick-serve chain with a sometimes off-color mascot who could play a family man hugging a baby and in the very next scene be half naked seducing someone’s girlfriend. Remember the King’s burger-inspired cologne “Flame?” Remember the commercial? No other mascot could pull that off.

You see, mascots are magical and for a national brand campaign, a mascot has a way of being a laid back, yet exciting alter ego of an uptight corporation, but for local store marketing campaigns, mascots will get you the attention you need to temporarily boost sales. While at Pizza Inn, I often recommended the use of the mascot JoJo to franchisees. There were times when franchisees took over a preexisting, under-performing location and unfortunately had to fight whatever stigma the previous franchisee left them. The community would sometimes be hesitant to return even after knowing there was a management change and the store was cleaned-up, but after placing JoJo out front, kids would practically drive their parents to the restaurant. In the great words of Ron Popeil, you can just “set it and forget it!” However, regardless of the campaign, mascots can only lead the horse to the water; it’s the menu and well-ran operations that make it drink. You get the picture.

I’m sure Burger King’s parent company, 3G Capital, understood the power of their mascot, so when making the decision to get rid of the King they must have thought that focusing on their food instead of polishing their brand image would have positioned themselves as the big chain version of a better burger concept. Unfortunately, Wendy’s had already beat them to it. Wendy’s, who previously was in third place in systemwide sales by less than $300 million had outdone Burger King by $100 million in systemwide sales in just a few short months with notably less stores. While both chains concentrated on new products, Burger King should have accompanied menu development with even more focus on their younger male audience by revising their value menu and better utilizing the King. Though this demographic was monetarily stiff-armed by the recession, they still chose to dine out, just more conservatively. Meeting this group where they were financially with several more affordable menu options could have established Burger King as the burger alternative to Taco Bell, the chain that seems to understand the demographic the most. After all, it is young males who appreciated the quirky humor the King brought while many others called him creepy. The King should have been, and still could be, the fast food equivalent of Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” seducing consumers to try new menu items.

While it’s uncertain if the King will ever return, Burger King has at least temporarily brought back the Subservient Chicken to promote their new Chicken Big King. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a Subservient Chicken campaign. With flat U.S. sales, Burger King could use whatever help they can get, however temporary it may be.

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