If you thought Burger King’s Super Bowl ad featuring Andy Warhol was “advertising for people who work in advertising,” then wait until you see this one.
In a new minute-long spot from agency David Miami (which also made the brand’s polarizing Super Bowl ad), the King is wandering the streets, lonely and misunderstood. Is it because the Big Game spot, which was essentially 45 seconds of footage of pop art pioneer Warhol eating a Whopper, fell a bit flat with mainstream audiences? (It landed dead last on USA Today’s Ad Meter, though it fared better with the nerdier crowd, being named by Adweek as the No. 2 ad of the Super Bowl and meriting its own New Yorker cartoon.)
To the strains of Eric Carmen’s sorrowful 1975 track “All By Myself,” the King sulks through his period of isolation until finding his way to a Burger King. There, as one would hope for burger royalty visiting his own demesne, he finds companionship, but it comes in a form few were likely expecting.
Is the ad really about the pushback and confusion around Burger King’s Super Bowl ad? Global CMO Fernando Machado assures us it’s not. But it sure feels like a good time for the ad anyway.
OK so you’ve watched it by now, right? We can get into spoiler territory?
So yes, it’s advertising’s beloved 2000s interactive icon, the Subservient Chicken. Created by CP+B and Barbarian Group, Subservient Chicken is often regarded as a turning point in digital marketing, ushering in an era of engaging and enigmatic branded creations.
If you weren’t around during the heady days of Subservient Chicken, it essentially worked like this: You typed in a command into a website that appeared to be livestreaming someone dressed in a rather disturbing chicken costume, and the creature would then do a rough approximation of what you’d requested—lay an egg, do the chicken dance, etc. It was all pre-programmed to account for potential commands, not unlike a modern chatbot.
Subservient Chicken, created in 2004 to promote the TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich, helped put Burger King on the global map as one of the day’s most inventive marketers, with iconic campaigns like Whopper Sacrifice and Whopper Freakout to follow. But after CP+B lost the account in 2011, the brand entered a period of drab and forgettable advertising in the immediate years after being acquired by 3G Capital.
But Machado, hired onto the Burger King marketing team in 2014, has often praised the CP+B era of Burger King advertising and specifically Subservient Chicken, so it’s no surprise to see a callback to one of the most iconic campaigns. He has also been working with a wide swath of innovative agencies around the world, with David Miami (arguably today’s spiritual successor to the CP+B of the mid-2000s) often behind attention-grabbing work like Whopper Neutrality and the Burning Stores print campaign.
This isn’t Subservient Chicken’s first return to the fast-food fray. In 2014, he came back via “missing” posters to help promote the Chicken Big King sandwich.
So will we actually see Subservient Chicken return in a more in-depth way? Time will tell. Maybe this time he’ll go full modern era and only take orders via emojis, memes and nudes.