Sun, Aug 21, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Burger King Corp gives its creepy mascot the boot

By Sarah Skidmore  /  AP, PORTLAND

The King is dead, but the burger lives on.

Burger King Corp on Friday said it is retiring “The King” mascot, a man with an oversized plastic head and creepy smile, who in recent years has been shown in ads peeping into people’s windows and popping up next to them in bed.

The move is an effort by the struggling fast food chain to boost slumping sales by focusing its marketing on the freshness of its food rather than the funny-factor of its ads. It was scheduled to roll out a new campaign yesterday without The King to tout its fresh ingredients and new products like its California Whopper, which has fresh guacamole.

“We won’t be seeing The King for a while,” Burger King spokesman B.J. Monzon said on Friday.

The new focus is a departure for Burger King, which long has targeted its ads at young male teens who like to chomp its chargrilled burgers and gulp its milkshakes. The economic downturn has battered its core customer — young males have been particularly hard hit by unemployment — and Burger King is looking to boost declining sales by appealing to the mothers, families and others that rivals like McDonald’s Corp have successfully courted.

“I think it’s great they are doing something as opposed to just withering away,” said Joel Cohen, a restaurant marketing consultant. “They are taking an approach that is not that much different from what McDonald’s is doing and growing up.”

The new focus comes as Burger King attempts to regain its edge. While competitors have grown by updating their offerings, Burger King largely stuck to its menu of burgers and fries.

For example, McDonald’s has worked to portray itself as a healthier, hip place to eat, offering wireless access in restaurants, updating decor and introducing smoothies, oatmeal and yogurt parfaits. Subway has grown quickly by emphasizing fresh, quick and affordable food. The company has also faced competition from other burger chains, like Sonic and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

As a result, Burger King, which was once in a neck-and-neck competition with McDonald’s, has seen sales slump. Last year, the top three US restaurant chains — McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks — all reported strong revenue gains, while fourth-placed Burger King’s revenue fell 2.5 percent.

In the second quarter of this year, the company’s net income fell more than 13 percent to US$42.8 million and revenue fell 4 percent to US$596.2 million. During the same quarter, McDonald’s profit rose 15 percent to US$1.4 billion and its revenue rose 16 percent to US$6.9 billion.

“Whatever they are doing isn’t working, so it’s time to do something different,” said Bob Goldin, analyst at Chicago-based food consultancy Technomic. “There is a sense of urgency to get back on their feet.”

That Burger King is looking to its mascot for change is not surprising. Other restaurant chains have recently begun to use their longtime mascots less — or ditched them completely — to freshen up the brand.

McDonald’s, which has faced tough scrutiny of its marketing to kids, has moved away from an emphasis on Ronald McDonald, its clown mascot festooned in red wig and shoes. The Wendy’s chain no longer plays up its Wendy character, which has red hair and matching freckles, in its marketing.

A chain’s mascot should give a brand a better sense of identity by connecting it better with consumers while entertaining them. Cohen said.

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