Burger King's Subservient Chicken — one of the most popular viral ad campaigns of all time — is about to make a very high-profile second landing.
If Burger King can find him, that is.
The wacky guy in the chicken suit — who responded to very specific Web commands typed onto keyboards by consumers — took the Internet in a new, interactive direction and racked up more than a billion views way back in 2004.
Now, in a bid to promote its new Chicken Big King sandwich, Burger King has re-launched the familiar website — subservientchicken.com — but with one important thing missing: the chicken.
Burger King ran ads in 10 Sunday newspapers across the country this weekend posing this question: "Have you seen this chicken?"
Burger King's name appears nowhere in the ads — a social media campaign posing the same question will follow.
At 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, BK will post a 10-minute video that chronicles the chicken's life over the past decade, "highlighting the chicken's rise, fall and reinvention," says Eric Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer at Burger King.
The move comes at a time that the $230 billion fast-food industry is in a competitive tizzy. There are two major battle fronts. One is the breakfast business, with Taco Bell newly on board. The other is simply over who can create and sell the most chicken concoctions, as consumers increasingly lean toward chicken.
Rivals sense a vulnerability at McDonald's, which has seen domestic sales soften a bit.
The fast-food competition lately has brought some clever and feisty marketing. Taco Bell poked fun at McDonald's using real guys named Ronald McDonald. Now, Burger King is almost poking fun at itself — with the reintroduction of the Subservient Chicken.
"The chicken will help us launch the Big King in a big way," says Hirschhorn. Although the campaign is hitched to the chicken's 10th anniversary, "He will stick around going forward," he says.
The chicken was introduced a decade ago to promote BK's TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. The original Web campaign, a creation of the ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, seemed to respond — in interactive, webcam fashion — to specific commands that folks typed. The responses were actually pre-recorded and keyed to certain words that were typed.
The chicken would do everything from sing, sleep or blow its nose — and even do a moonwalk. When it was told to do naughty things, it would shake its finger at the camera.
The new video, titled "The Other Side of the Road: The Subservient Chicken Story," will feature a cameo by actor Dustin Diamond. To create it, BK found the old chicken suit — which is featured in the new video along with actor Rob Ramsdell, who originally played the part of the chicken.
Even the Subservient Chicken website itself looks familiar, down to the tacky living room with the red couches where the chicken first performed. The most common response to specific commands this time around, however, is this: "This is no time for commands. There is a chicken on the loose, and we are trying desperately to find him."