Note: These opinions reflect that of the author, and not of QSR magazine or its properties.
Let us awaken from our 35-year-long trance, which began on January 22, 1984, and ended, I hope, on February 3, 2019. Between then and now, between Apple’s “1984” commercial and Burger King’s “#EatLikeAndy” spot, Super Bowl commercials have not only become more expensive and less effective—they have become less relevant and more ridiculous. To the critics, I say: How does a clip from 37 years ago, featuring an artist who died 32 years ago, sell hamburgers to millennials who were not even alive during Andy Warhol’s lifetime? How does an excerpt (of an excerpt) from a 1982 Danish documentary, “66 Scenes from America,” make Warhol a convincing—and posthumous—spokesman for Burger King?
Aside from enriching the Andy Warhol Foundation, the ad reveals what happens when “art” overrides commerce. That is, when creativity conquers common sense, a company does not understand what its consumers know—that Andy Warhol eating a hamburger is a piece of performance art, not an artist’s endorsement of America or hamburgers.
More ironic is how watching that commercial begs the question from another hamburger commercial: “Where’s the beef?”
Leave it to Burger King to elicit nostalgia for Wendy’s. Leave it to Andy Warhol to lampoon what Burger King’s customers love—hamburgers.
Burger King’s commercial is an ad of Warhol, by Warhol, for the memorialization of Warhol. It is a satire by a dead con artist or can artist, whom collectors revere as an artist who painted soup cans. Call it an update of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (Danish: “Kejserens nye klæder”), where a business mistakes arrogance for admiration, ridicule for regard, scorn for sincerity. Call it the acceptance of absurdity. Do not, however, call it an acceptable way to market hamburgers.
From start to finish, Warhol is deadpan; his style is dull, his delivery dry, his reaction dismal. He has his way with the viewer, rather than letting Burger King tell viewers to have it their way.
The problem, I fear, is people’s reluctance to call out Burger King for its failure to call attention to what distinguishes its hamburgers from the competition.
If we deserve a break today, in the words of McDonald’s, perhaps Burger King should rewatch its own commercials. Perhaps Burger King should revive its 40-year-old “Have It Your Way” campaign. Perhaps it should remember what consumers have not forgotten, that clarity trumps creativity; that the most creative ads clarify the most memorable announcements; that the most memorable Super Bowl ad of all time is “1984” from Apple, which may be the best ad of all time, period.
Burger King paid for a commercial by Andy Warhol, not a video by Jackson Pollock. The subsequent mess will endure online, as it should; as it must, until Burger King learns its lesson: that it is easier to fool yourself—to make a fool of yourself in the process, too—than it is to fool the least cynical customer.
Until clarity and repetition are one, Burger King will continue to repeat its share of marketing mistakes. Until then, Burger King would be wise not to share its mistakes by airing them as commercials.