BBH: five years of applying the sauce to Burger King's whopper
We kick off our new series celebrating enduring client-agency relationships with BBH & Burger King, and look at how the partnership produced attention-grabbing work that became part of pop culture
14 November 2023
Whilst not quite operating at the speed of an expert burger flipper, it didn’t take long for the private equity group Bridgepoint to appoint BBH to handle Burger King following its acquisition of the UK brand in November 2017. Burger King had previously worked with French agency Buzzman although had worked with UK agencies in the past.
BBH’s first work for Burger King broke in early September the following year and featured the Burger King chief executive Alasdair Murdoch in a nationwide search for the first person to try the new Crispy Chicken Burger. Playing with the apparently poor perception of the chicken options in Burger King, the contest offered the (un)lucky winner £20,000 for trying the product.
Under Murdoch, formerly of upmarket rival Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Bridgepoint planned to reinvigorate Burger King's operations in the UK, where it languished behind rivals McDonald's and KFC (which incidentally had previously worked with BBH until shifting its business to Mother earlier in 2017).
The ad, which Murdoch also posted on LinkedIn, was a low-key start to the partnership between the brand and the agency. It promised that the winner of the competition would appear in BBH's first TV ad for Burger King later that year.
If 2018 saw the account just bedding in, there was much more fun to be had the following year when Burger King claimed that it hid a McDonald’s Big Mac behind every Whopper appearing in all of its ads in 2019 to show how the burgers compared in size.
In April of that year it ran "The Whopper mandate", a promotional day in which it offered its signature burger, the Whopper, for free to customers who download its app – but anyone hoping to order anything else will be out of luck. It was supported by an out-of-home and press campaign and two TV spots.
Burger King's later attempts to involve itself in the national conversation didn't always go to plan. A Tweet that appeared to suggest that people could use its milkshakes to throw at Nigel Farage upon his visit to Scotland was banned by the ASA for condoning antisocial behaviour.
It had rather more fun with an ad for the Whopper that appeared on one-side of a London bus and read to coincide with 2019's general election. The copy read: "Another Whopper on the side of a bus. Must be an election" - an allusion to the Brexit referendum of 2016.
February 2020 saw Burger King's famous/infamous "The Mouldy Whopper" divide opinion. BBH was not involved in its creation (it came from David Miami, Ingo Stockholm and Publicis Worldwide) but it showed how the brand was not afraid to enter the conversation - something that BBH also subscribed to.
Shot in time lapse over 34 days as the burger is consumed by furry green fungus, it was ostensibly created to show how its burgers contained no artificial preservatives. Incidentally, it scored well with the awards juries.
In July 2020 BBH and Burger King enlisted Tinie (formerly known as Tinie Tempah) for a virtual performance taking place atop the brand's Whopper. "Tiny Tinie performs Whoppa on a Whopper" saw a miniature virtual version of the singer perform his single Whoppa on top of the burger and the performance was by scanning a QR code on the product packaging.
In May 2021 after the world begun to emerge from the worst of Covid (during which Burger King used social media to offer support encouraging shoppers to visit independent restaurants as well as its rival McDonald's), the brand tapped into the world of conspiracy theories.
Its BBH-created TV ad depicted a woman spreading the fake news that the flame-grilled flavour of a Whopper is created by a secret, internet-enabled liquid smoke, rather than actual fire. The tongue-in-cheek spot was inspired by real-life instances of people on Reddit theorising about the flavour of Burger King's flagship burger.
Later that year, Burger King launched a similarly humorous garnish-branded shirt stunt designed to disguise spillages and keep customers looking stylish.
Supported by a TV and OOH campaign from BBH, the shirt helped promote the launch of its Gourmet Kings range – The Argentinian and The Steakhouse – and features a print design carrying stylised imagery of tomatoes, rocket, Bullseye BBQ sauce, and and other burger ingredients.
The shirts was only be available to 100 Burger King customers after they has been selected from a draw after ordering one of the Gourmet King burgers through the Burger King app.
Surrealism was the theme of a June 2022 campaign, which featured flying Whoppers but was also to highlight how its burgers were flame-grilled.
One BBH spot shows a man crying over a break-up and getting ready to burn a jumper owned by his ex interrupted by a Whopper. The campaign was called "Whopper to a flame" and ran throughout the summer.
Away from the planned campaign activity, Burger King and BBH (along with Splendid Communications) acted quickly following the implosion of Boris Johnson's government and his subsequent resignation in the summer of 2022.
It took them just seven hours from draft idea to this billboard appearing outside Downing Street.
Given that the bulk of Burger King's promotional activity over the past five years has been to support its signature Whopper product (which is now available in vegan versions), the brand's most recent campaign plays on the idea that one of its most popular burgers is the Chicken Royale.
It features the brand's characteristic playful sense of humour, which BBH has now well and truly embedded into it.
There's a cheeky scene of a McDonald's billboard being pasted over with a Whopper ad and even a nod to BBH's famous Levis "Laundrette" ad from 1985, starring the late Nick Kamen. Instead of a pair of 501's, a Whopper-branded item of clothing is in spin cycle in one of the machines.
BBH and Burger King's partnership might not (yet) be one of the most enduring in advertising history, but that little touch looks like a clear sign of the depth of the relationship between the pair. It's something that only comes about from mutual trust and respect and a lesson that can be learned from brands and agencies alike.