Sunday, May 14, 2006

Attention seeker, emotional seeker


Enter Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the eccentric ad shop in Miami that's known for using viral marketing and creating nutty characters like the Subservient Chicken for Burger King Holdings Inc.'s ailing franchises.

It famously helped solve Burger King's irrelevancy problem, especially with consumers aged 14-25, with the Subservient Chicken Web site, where a visitor could make a chicken do almost anything on command -- dust furniture or play air guitar.

That simple, inexpensive, wacky idea has generated a staggering 460 million-plus hits in two years and helped Burger King post its first string of positive growth quarters in a decade. The agency's relaunch of the MINI brand helped the unit of BMW surpass sales targets by 80%. Crispin's success has fueled growth in its own staff from 105 in 2000 to 438. As it transforms marketing messages into entertainment time and again, "the agency has been redefining what consumers even recognize as advertising," says rival and admirer Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.

Crispin's employee handbook says advertising is "anything that makes our clients famous."

German-accented, dominatrix-type blonde bombshell named Helga. She appears in ads with an effete German engineer named Wolfgang, whose message to introduce the GTI hatchback is "Unpimp Your Auto," a swipe at the over-accessorized, high-performance small Japanese cars often dubbed "rice rockets." Billboards for the GTI read "Auf Wiedersehen, sucka" and "Fast as Schnell."

Helga and Wolfgang, says Hicks, are an example of taking an audience to a place they didn't know they wanted to go. "A lot of advertisers try and mirror what the research tells them. What we do is try and make the brand part of the pop culture."

"Cups, beer labels, door handles are all places to make a worthwhile brand statement, not necessarily an ad," says Jim Poh, Crispin's director of creative content distribution.

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