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Rebranding Burger King: Why you can’t reinvent the wheel, or the Whopper

Matilda Schieren

If, like me, your world revolves around a meal schedule and you turn into a significantly tougher person to be around when your blood sugar dips, then you probably follow food news as closely (but probably closer) than the stock market’s pulse. For the past week, Burger King has infiltrated the news cycle with their latest rebranding strategy: upgraded dining rooms, trendy menu options and a slew of celebrity-sprinkled advertisements. Only a couple weeks in, I’d bet my body weight in Whoppers that BK will remain America’s third favorite burger purveyor. Here’s why.

You may remember that BK fired their King mascot last year; I like to think they exiled him to an island called “Melba.” Apparently he began appearing too frequently on “creepiest” mascot lists, but, as far as appearances are concerned, his highness was no more sinister than Ronald McDonald. Now, in an attempt to glamorize their flame-grilled patties, BK produced commercial spots featuring beautiful people including David Beckham, Steven Tyler and Sofia Vergara. One ad featuring Mary J. Blige was pulled due to political-incorrectness and music licensing issues, but I cannot see the ones that remain being any more effective. 

Does seeing Jay Leno pull up to an order-counter trigger Pavlov effect salivation? Does Beckham’s perfect teeth and impeccably tailored suit make you think “Cheeseburger. Now”? Quite the opposite.

Think about it: if you were lucky enough to dine with any of these naturally airbrushed stars, you’d probably eat as little as possible during the meal, or at least opt for something that guarantees a zero-chance of revealing how messy of an eater you are. Then you’d slide through the Burger King drive-thru on the way home, where you could eat the excess cheese off of the foil in peace.

The second prong of Burger King’s latest rebranding tore through its menu. In mimicry of every other major fast food chain, BK has decided to offer “healthier,” more cosmopolitan choices: salads, smoothies, frappes. It sounds good in theory, with plenty of reports indicating Americans’ attempts at more balanced eats, but in the world of deep fryers and pink slime, maneuvers like this seem hypocritical. Devotees will not hail the King for their croutons, but for their Whoppers, their ineffably extra crispy potatoes and those bizarre, recently discontinued chicken fries.

Ultimately, Burger King’s branding brouhaha is an identity crisis in disguise. It must be hard trying to find your place amongst the internationally recognized golden arches and Wendy’s wildcards (baked potatoes and Frostys.) Instead of piggybacking on iced coffee fads and everyone’s obsession with Vergara’s accent, maybe BK should stick to what their name implies: burgers and kings. My advice? They should restore the plastic-faced mascot to his throne, and embrace their inherent quirkiness—America loves those underdog stories, almost as much as combo meals.