CP&B’s streaming poultry antics serves up big demand for Burger King.

With any other marketing medium, gauging the public’s opinion can take a little time, but with the Web, when you hit the spot with a campaign, you soon know about it. This was certainly the experience of US advertising agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky (CP&B), whose Web site for Burger King’s new TenderCrisp chicken sandwich, became a hot spot in April with over 20 million hits in just one week.

The site – www.subservientchicken.com – is a companion to three TV commercials created by the agency to promote BK’s new chicken sandwich with the company’s brand slogan Have It Your Way. The ads feature a subservient chicken, or rather a person in a chicken suite that is ordered around while a voiceover states “Chicken, just the way you like it”.

“In addition to the TV commercials, we wanted to expand this idea as much as possible, looking for other ways to communicate it. One of which was to create a live Web site that featured the subservient chicken in a room, allowing for viewers to interact and submit requests for the chicken to obey, explains Mark Taylor, art director at CP&B.

One problem Taylor and his colleague could foresee was, as the site was live, the chicken could only obey one command at a time, ignoring all the others. “We wanted the interaction to be personal with the chicken, giving the viewer immediate satisfaction and surprise says Taylor. Jeff Benjamin, interactive creative director at CP&B solved the problem by suggesting they film hundreds of ‘potential’ requests for the chicken to act out, which could then be catalogued and spliced together, and activated by specific key words. This simulated the live environment, while allowing for each and every person logged on to get specific personal attention from the chicken. Over 400 clips of the chicken acting out potential requests were filmed over the course of a one-day shoot.

The low-tech style of the video streamed from the Web site was intentional according to Taylor. “We designed the site to feel underground and non-corporate, in hopes of it spreading virally,” he says. “The video could have been much smoother, but we slowed it to three frames per second for this reason.”

Low-tech approach

“We were trying to mimic the low-tech feel of Web cams. All of them – even newer ones that were coming out like iChat have frame lag and choppiness so to make ours authentic we did the same,” adds Benjamin. “As an added bonus, the choppiness allowed us to better mask clips being switched and keep file sizes low.

The team decided to host the video in a Flash movie. “It’s the only mainstream technology that allows for calling and switching video clips in real-time,” explains Benjamin. “We feel this is a natural progression for video. As weird as this project is and as low-tech as it may seem, it’s the progression of the video experience.”

The site went live on April 8 – the same day the ads aired on television, and quickly became something of a phenomenon as friends emailed friends round the world to tell them to check out this must-see site.

“We didn’t expect this much attention, especially so quickly,” says Bob Cianfrone, copywriter at CP&B. “The rate at which it spread was amazing, especially because we had only sent it to a few friends the night before. By the end of the first day, it was rated as the most talked about and contagious site on the web. We thought that the site would be a cool offshoot from the TV campaign, not the other way around,” adds Taylor.

Such was the overwhelming demand that the team had to scramble after the first day to set up three more servers in different locations.

The demand also demonstrates the success of viral marketing as a way of targeting the advertising-weary consumer.

“People are less resistant to advertising when it’s subtle. And that’s what this was,” says Benjamin. “The other thing to note is that this component of the campaign was viral yet the campaign itself wasn’t. The idea was that people would spend time with the chicken on the site and then watch TV and see a subservient chicken television commercial that was clearly from Burger King. At that point they’d be more interested in the commercial since they’d already spent seven minutes playing with the chicken.