God Save the King: BK’s Health Surge Signals End of Fast-Food Monarchy

by Anthony John Agnello | August 19, 2011 10:56 am

Burger KingThe nation mourns today after Burger King executives broke into the guarded top floor of the fast food chain’s corporate headquarters in Miami, Fla., on Thursday evening and assassinated the King in a shocking coup d’état. Releasing a statement Friday morning regarding the deposition of the long-standing monarchy, senior marketing vice president Alex Macedo said, “People want a reason to go back to Burger King.”

He and his conspirators plan to reignite public support of the organization by introducing a healthier line of menu items, but the plan is foolhardy. The King was beloved by his people. He was a benevolent and kind leader whose kingdom of meat and cheese was built in the name of his subjects. He ruled not with an iron fist, but instead insisted that all should “have it your way.” Falling prey to regicide is an ignoble end for a great man.

The King wasn’t really murdered, of course, but he was indeed shown the door. Burger King is kicking off a new marketing blitz that aims to change public perception of the company as a purveyor of dangerously unhealthy fast food to a distributor of mom-friendly gourmet items. The centerpiece of the push is the California Whopper, a burger with guacamole on it. While a greasy patty smeared with mashed avocado isn’t what most medical professionals would call a cure for hypertension, it is good advertising. The actual new television commercials for the burger are just of vegetables and other ingredients being washed and prepared.

Robert Passikoff of consumer surveying group Brand Keys told USA TODAY that the health-conscious strategy likely will work out for Burger King. “There was a time when price was king. Now healthy choices and quality drive the category,” he said.

With same-store sales down 6%, Burger King certainly needs something to change. What’s most interesting about the shift in image, though, is it indicates a broader turn away from the mascot-oriented branding that has surrounded fast-food chains for nearly two generations. McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD[1]) has been criticized for years for not retiring Ronald McDonald as its mascot character, with detractors insisting the eerie clown was a tool for addicting children to unhealthy food. Consumer trends seem to be ending the marketing potency of characters like Ronald and the King quickly, though. McDonald’s introduced its own healthy menu options earlier this year, and its same-store sales were up close to 3% in the first quarter.

Will Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM[2]) do away with the Colonel at KFC and stop selling people sandwiches made entirely out of fried chicken and cheese? Will Wendy‘s (NYSE:WEN[3]) do away with the smiling visage of Dave Thomas’ pigtailed daughter and stop pouring molten cheddar on baked potatoes? Should Jack at Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK[4]) be worried for his life? If Burger King’s sales jump after ending the monarchy, these changes all could be on the horizon.

As of this writing, Anthony John Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter at @ajohnagnello[5] and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook[6].

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