Burger King launches biggest marketing, menu initiatives ever

3G Capital has made changes at a near-dizzying pace since acquiring Burger King in October 2010 – shuffling its executive team, dropping the chain's longtime ad agency, rolling out a new breakfast menu, accelerating its modern 20/20 restaurant design and patching things up with its franchise base.

Burger King also has overhauled its french fries, expanded its target demographic from young males to women and families, increased its international footprint and added a dessert platform.

But none of these initiatives were as hefty as the changes officially announced today. Burger King has added more than a dozen new items – its broadest menu expansion in its 58-year history – and has kicked off its biggest marketing campaign ever, with celebrity appearances from Mary J. Blige, David Beckham, Jay Leno, Steven Tyler, Salma Hayek and Sofia Vergara.

Burger King's new website also made its debut today, with a cleaner, more simple, food-centric design that reflects its marketing shift to appeal to a broader demographic.

Additionally, after a year of what the company called "intense evaluation," work in test kitchens and repeated consumer reviews, BK is now launching a series of enhancements, from digital menu boards, to updated decors, to modern uniforms and new packaging.

New menu items

The chain's broadest expansion of food offerings has been introduced after a year of extensive consumer and company testing. The new menu items complement the chain's recently announced nationwide launch of the Coca-Cola Freestyle technology across the U.S. and are in addition to other recent introductions such as BK Toppers and BK Chef's Choice burger.

"We spent the last year analyzing every aspect of our business to better understand what our guests expect from the Burger King dining experience," said Steve Wiborg, president, North America, Burger King Corp. "We found that consumers wanted a broader range of menu options to complement our signature fire-grilled burgers. This expanded menu gives consumers more choices and more reasons to visit Burger King restaurants."

New menu items include:

  • Garden Fresh Salads: BLT, Apple and Cranberry or classic Caesar Salad varieties are made fresh-to-order, premium ingredients and topped with a choice of Tendercrips or Tendergrill chicken (suggested retail price starts at $4.99);
  • Chicken Snack Wraps: Honey Mustard Crispy Chicken Snack Wrap and the Ranch Crispy Chicken Snack Wrap have less than 400 calories each (suggested retail price of $1.59);
  • Real Fruit Smoothies: Tropical Mango and Strawberry Banana smoothies are made with low-fat yogurt, real fruit and juices (suggested retail price of $2.29);
  • Frappés: Mocha and Caramel flavors are made-to-order with a hint of coffee and ice, topped with whipped topping and a swirl of fudge or caramel (suggested retail price of $2.29);
  • Crispy Chicken Strips: Premium Crispy Chicken Strips are made with white meat tenderloin chicken, marinated and lightly battered in seasoned home-style breading, served in three- or five-piece servings with classic or bold new dipping sauces, such as Kung Pao and Roasted Jalapeno Barbecue sauces (suggested retail price starts at $2.99).

"Over the past year, we developed and tested more than two dozen menu items," Wiborg said. "After extensive consumer testing in both our test kitchens and at restaurants around the county, our consumers chose these as their favorites. From there we worked hard to make sure these new items are truly the best of what our brand has to offer."

Star-filled marketing campaign

Burger King has been in the process of shifting its focus to a sales-driven, marketing culture for the past year. In a conference call last April, CFO Daniel Schwartz said this effort meant turning the spotlight on core products, enhancing ingredients and leveraging its guest customization components.

Its new star-filled marketing campaign kicked off today nationwide, with celebrities such as Beckham and Blige showcasing the newest menu items in a variety of lighthearted scenes shot at Burger King restaurants.

"This is an exciting time for Burger King and that's why we're getting the word out in a big way," said Alex Macedo, BKC's senior vice president, North America marketing. "Our star-studded ads will generate awareness and buzz for the brand and highlight our new food in unique and refreshing ways."

The various spots include:

  • Jay Leno kicks off the campaign and finds his own drive-thru lane to showcase the menu lineup;
  • David Beckham heats up the front counter when he orders a cool, healthy Real Fruit Smoothie;
  • Mary J. Blige sings her heart out for Crispy Chicken Snack Wraps;
  • Steven Tyler gets things rockin' with Crispy Chicken Strips;
  • Salma Hayek plays a diverse cast of BK customers, ordering Garden Fresh Salads, Crispy Chicken Snack Wraps and Crispy Chicken Strips, while showing off her acting chops in English and Spanish language ads; and
  • Sofia Vergara dons a BK uniform and hits the kitchen, making a Garden Fresh Salad and Real Fruit Smoothie in Spanish language ads.

The series of ads are part of a national, multi-platform marketing campaign that will extend across social media and digital applications. Additionally, the brand will deploy sampling trucks across the country and invite everyone to try out the new menu items at local events in communities nationwide. Consumers can track the trucks beginning April 18th on bk.com.

Enhanced restaurant experience

The company also has added enhancements at every U.S. location, from easy-to-navigate digital menu boards in the dining room and streamlined merchandising at the drive-thru, to new employee uniforms and crisp, new packaging.

The changes are part of the company's 20/20 restaurant redesign that incorporates a modern, industrial-inspired design. More than 2,500 U.S. restaurants are expected to be updated with the new look throughout the next three years.

"We are energized by the positive momentum of our brand and believe these enhancements to the Burger King dining experience will give guests more reasons to come back," Wiborg said. "We invite guests to come on in and check out our new menu additions, enhanced restaurant look, and stick with us as we continue to reinvigorate our brand."

On March 15 – well before today's announcements – Burger King's CFO Daniel Schwartz said in an earnings call that 3G Capital's changes were beginning to pay off.

Although the company turned in negative 0.5 percent system-wide comparable sales for the full year of 2011, the chain experienced a 1.7 percent increase in system-wide sales versus 2010. Company executives said the second half of 2011 featured long-anticipated progress after shifting brand positions during the first half of the year.

Check out a slideshow of Burger King's new products, commercial shots, restaurant designs and uniforms here.

Check out Beckham's commercial here:

Read more about operations management.

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