In 2010 Crispin Porter + Bogusky was named Interactive Agency of the year. And since their meteoric rise in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s they have claimed many creative awards and been named “Agency of the Year” 13 times by trade publications.

But was all of the hype and accolades deserved? I have want to ask and answer that question while looking specifically at the Burger King campaigns that really put Crispin Porter + Bogusky on the map.

The Case

After the start to a seven year relationship in 2003, Burger King and Crispin Porter + Bogusky announced in March 2011 that they would part ways. It most certainly will affect the agency as Burger King was said to represent nearly 10% of its revenue.

In 2009 Burger King Chief Marketing Officer Russ Klein stood to toast the agency for its accomplishments. It seemed on the surface that the Burger King campaigns developed by the agency were set to dethrone the true burger king, McDonalds, and reclaim the second position in the marketplace that it briefly lost to Wendy’s in 2008.

The Facts

So what facts suggest, or prove, that Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s creative didn’t drive sales?

  • Between 2003 and 2008, Burger King’s share of the burger-chain market fell to 14.2% from 15.6%, according to Technomic
  • McDonald’s has posted average annual sales growth of 6.3% compared with BK’s 2.9% gain during that period
  • McDonald’s share rose to 46.8% from 43.6%, also during that same period
  • Burger King posted a loss for the second half of 2010 of $34.5 million, compared to a profit of $96.8 million during the same period in 2009
  • Burger King’s same-store U.S. sales, considered the best measure of a restaurant’s health, declined 5 percent for the second half of calendar 2010 compared to the same period last year
  • Same-store sales are off an average of about 10 percent from where they were two years ago, as of the end of 2010

In Conclusion

I should end by saying I am a huge fan of the creativity that Crispin Porter + Bogusky have brought to clients like Burger King, Coke Zero, BMW and others. It isn’t always easy to sell clients on new creative approaches or to have them try new ideas. Anyone that can sell that approach deserves a room of applause.

And Burger King likely requires some blame as it’s marketing strategy did not react to McDonald’s Dollar Menu until it was too late. Perhaps, if Burger King and Crispin Porter + Bogusky focused on value instead of, in my opinion, creepy commercials maybe they would have seen more success during their seven year run.

“Burger King is more vulnerable to a weak job market than market leader McDonald’s and No. 3 hamburger chain Wendy’s  because young males account for a larger share of its customers.” That is something both the agency and BK should have addressed when the recession began to set in.

And Ad Age may have said it best, “Eyeing higher profit margins, BK focused its marketing guns on more expensive items targeted to so-called super fans, young men who theoretically care more about how “Meat’Normous” a burger is than how much it costs and who tend to be the most vociferous fast-food consumers. A smart strategy — until BK got caught flat-footed by a recession that played to McDonald’s sweet spot: the value proposition it clearly owned and had honed over decades.

In closing, I am a fan of Alex Bogusky who I rightfully, or wrongfully, attribute many of the creative ideas to. But great creative doesn’t always drive great results. And when looking through the lens of Burger King, it doesn’t appear the creative hype surrounding the campaigns drove results for the burger chain. However, I do strongly believe every creative execution challenged everyone in the industry by raising the bar creatively. And regardless of your, or my, feelings on the creative it did certainly put Burger King back on the map.

What sort of loses could the burger-chain have seen if Crispin Porter + Bogusky hadn’t had the account? I’m interested in your thoughts, feel free to comment below.