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Burger King: Crazy Like a Fox or Just Plain Crazy?

By Anders Bylund – Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 3:18AM

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The King's marketing is wildly dancing on the thin line between genius and insanity.

Has Burger King (NYSE:BKC) completely lost its mind? The second-biggest burger flipper in the world is headed for either a home-run hit or a massive disaster -- and I'm betting on the latter.

Tracing a timeline of memorable moments in the company's recent history, we can see just how bizarre the company has become in its efforts to attract customers. Let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

  • 2004: Privately held Burger King relaunches the venerable "Have it your way" slogan. Nothing wrong with that.
  • 2005: Say hello to the Creepy King and his oversized plastic head. The unsettling mascot gets into spirited hijinks, including Super Bowl commercials and Halloween tricks. Freaky, but apparently effective.
  • 2006: TPG Capital, Bain Capital, and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) take Burger King public again, maintaining substantial stakes in the company. A 24% positive return since then has "whopped" the S&P 500's 30% decline in the same time frame. Those first marketing ideas seemed to have worked.
  • May 2008: Marvel (NYSE:MVL) hero Iron Man asks for an "American cheeseburger" and gets a Burger King sandwich. Hey man, nice move!
  • December 2008: When the going gets tough, the weird turn pro. "Whopper Virgins" and burger-scented cologne, in response to a financial crisis putting pressure on consumer wallets, don't impress mi compadre Rick Munarriz. Can't say I blame him, either.
  • January 2009: First, the Angry Whopper (which actually sounds delicious) ties in to an "Angry-Gram" service. You get to compose a personalized rant about a person's intelligence, hygiene, or surgically enhanced body parts and send it off to anybody with an email address. "Angry-Grams are intended to be humorous and should not be used with an intent to harass," says the disclaimer. But you better make sure your recipients have really thick skin. Really thick.

And then there's this latest: You know how many Facebook applications ask you to invite your friends to their particular cause? Part viral-marketing genius and part annoying habit, the strategy has become pretty standard. But to complete the one-two punch of truly offensive weirdness, Burger King turns that equation around and asks you to delete Facebook contacts altogether, in return for a free Whopper sandwich. Sacrifice your friends. Get free food. Yum. 

You won't see McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) or Wendy's Arby's Group (NYSE:WEN) copying these more recent tactics anytime soon -- they're simply annoying and offensive. And BK's shenanigans on Facebook are more likely to backfire; they arguably undermine the whole idea of Facebook marketing as a constructive viral force, turning it destructive instead.

A bit of humor is always welcome, but I think Burger King is going too far this time. Get thee back to "Have it your way," Your Majesty.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Marvel, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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