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Burger King’s New Marketing Hits a Few Bumps

A Burger King commercial that featured Grammy-winning R&B star Mary J. Blige has been pulled just a few days after it had been posted on YouTube. In the ad, Blige brought her usual style and amazing voice to the top of a Burger King dining table to croon about crispy chicken. We saw it yesterday and were kind of speechless. Actually we let out a huge “What!” and then sent it to friends. There were a lot of “SMH”s sent in reply.

Within the past hour, media outlets started to notice that the ad has been pulled from YouTube, though you can watch it here. Prior to being pulled, the ad had received a good deal of backlash, some who thought the ad reinforced negative stereotypes about African Americans, but many more who expressed shock and/or sadness that someone like Mary would sing one of her hit songs for chicken. A BK rep tells Ad Age that the ad has been pulled in order to iron out some music licensing issues. File the whole thing under wrong celebrity, wrong brand.

But what exactly is the Burger King brand these days? They don’t know. We don’t know. And fewer people are buying the food.

Back in August, Burger King dumped its creepy spokes-king and began promptly focusing on the quality of its food. Since then, we’ve not noticed very much from BK. And Wendy’s has officially overtaken Burger King as the number two burger franchise in the nation. Both are still being trumped by McDonald’s.

Now there’s been a big media push with news of the new ads (Salma Hayek, David Beckham, and Jay Leno are also spokespeople), a new menu, and revamped restaurants. The ads, which aren’t embeddable, focus on this idea that new and “exciting” things are happening at Burger King. Based on the ads, it looks like smoothies and chicken strips are happening at Burger King.

According to an analyst that spoke with MSNBC, other new menu items include frappe coffee drinks and an overall focus on healthy items, which isn’t a “game changer.” BusinessWeek goes a step further saying explicitly in a headline, “Burger King’s new menu– a lot like McDonald’s.”

BK execs say that, based on research, consumers want more options, and that’s what they’re giving them. The revamp also includes new uniforms and a new look for cups, wrappers, and serving items. But other fast-food chains, like the ones currently ahead of Burger King in sales, have introduced these menu items, redesigned their restaurants, and done lots of other things to respond to customer wishes a long time ago. (You can hear the execs talk about the revamp in a much more favorable story on USA Today.)

TIME asks whether BK waited too long, answering “no;” that they still have the Whopper and can stage a comeback. The problem is, it’s unclear how much the Whopper still does for the BK brand. It doesn’t have the same brand significance that it once had. The new stuff has been done already. Even the spokespeople who haven’t caused controversy are celebs who have appeared in a number of other ads recently — David Beckham for his own H&M line of underwear; Salma Hayek for milk; Jay Leno for Acura, the first and last during the Super Bowl.

Once BK dumped the King, it didn’t have a standout marketing plan to replace him.

[image: a still from the now removed Mary J. Blige ad for Burger King. via]

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