Burger King’s celebrity-driven commercials for new menu items recently broke through with several key demographics, according to new consumer research from YouGov BrandIndex.
Starting in May, when new ads starring soccer star David Beckham and Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler began running, Burger King experienced a lift among men and women in its “buzz score,” which BrandIndex uses to measure word-of-mouth traction every day, said Ted Marzilli, senior vice president of the consumer perception research firm.
“You want everybody you can get coming into your stores, and the best way of attracting all these different groups is through different media or different celebrities,” Marzilli said. “Here, Burger King seems to be targeting its top three or four groups and investing the money to get them. The approach makes sense, and the data suggest it’s making an impact.”
New York-based BrandIndex calculates the buzz score for hundreds of brands by surveying more than 5,000 adult consumers each weekday. Respondents are asked, “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word-of-mouth, was it positive or negative?” Negative responses are subtracted from positive ones, and a moving average is calculated ranging from negative 100 to positive 100, with a rating of zero denoting completely neutral perceptions for a brand.
At the beginning of May, female survey respondents had a more positive perception of Burger King, based on the brand’s buzz score with that demographic of 64, compared with an average buzz score among all consumers for all quick-service brands of 57. Male consumers yielded an average buzz score of only 34 for Burger King at that time.
However, BrandIndex noted, Burger King’s scores among men climbed throughout the first half of May as the brand’s commercial with Tyler aired, reaching a peak of 60 on May 16. Men’s buzz score for Burger King ended June 8 at 50 — still below the overall average buzz score for all quick-service chains at 61 but well above its starting point from May 1.
Right about the time the men’s buzz score hit its peak in mid-May, buzz scores for Burger King among female consumer respondents began climbing, hitting an apex of 76 on May 29, BrandIndex found. Those results seemed to track with the debut of Burger King’s second commercial with Beckham, in which one of Burger King’s new smoothies gets spilled on his shirt and female customers and employees implore him to take his shirt off.
Burger King’s buzz score among women ended June 8 at 69, eight points above the industry average for all consumers.
Marzilli noted that while it can be an expensive, high-risk-high-reward tactic for a restaurant to use celebrity endorsers, Burger King’s approach with Beckham, Tyler, and others like Salma Hayek and Jay Leno, appears to be working.
“It’s not inexpensive to get talent like that, but it’s like portfolio theory, where different folks will appeal to different consumer segments,” he said. “It makes sense to target specific customer groups with niche content or celebrities and is better than a one-size-fits-all strategy. … If you’re going to spend the money, you might as well target everybody you can.”
Marzilli added that sustaining this kind of a pop in buzz scores would be difficult for Burger King because refreshing the campaign could be very expensive. He also noted that Burger King’s largest rival, McDonald’s, spends far more in advertising — something incoming McDonald’s chief executive Don Thompson acknowledged when told investors the chain “looked forward to taking competitors’ business when they pulled back from promotions.”
“It’s very hard to win that battle on a consistent basis,” Marzilli said. “The best Burger King can do is to pick its battles and try a few different things to get pick-up for free in social media and the press and fight guerilla warfare with a guy like McDonald’s. Also, it’s one thing to raise buzz and drive people into the stores to give Burger King another chance, but the real key is execution.”
For its March 31-ended first quarter, Burger King Holdings Inc. reported its strongest gain in same-store sales in two years, with a 4.2-percent increase in the United States and Canada.
Miami-based Burger King operates or franchises 12,534 restaurants worldwide.