Living the Burger King Lifestyle Isn’t Cool

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After 40 years of allowing customers to “Have It Your Way,” Burger King Worldwide (NYSE: BKW) wants you to know it identifies with self-expression and individualism, so now it’s OK to “Be Your Way.” Online ads started carrying the new tag line last month, and the first TV commercials aired on Monday.

Just one question for BK: What the heck does that even mean? The nonsensical word mash-up looks as though it was pulled from the air in an attempt to riff off of some edgy “Just Do It” vibe. Instead of coming off as cool, say like Tony Bennett doing a duet with Bono or Queen Latifah, Burger King risks looking like your dad trying to be hip by wearing skinny jeans.

Companies regularly change their corporate slogans to keep up with the times or to refresh the feel of the brand. Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), for instance, alters its tag lines almost every year, even those that achieve iconic status, like “The Pause that Refreshes” and “It’s the Real Thing” (not to mention its arguably most famous slogan, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” which was part of the “Real Thing” campaign).

At some point Kraft Foods Group (NASDAQ: KRFT) dropped the comforting “Good to the last drop” slogan from its Maxwell House coffee, which it used for decades after President Theodore Roosevelt said the coffee was just that. However, the company last month announced it would bring the slogan back , along with a new campaign,”Say Good Morning to a Good Day. ” This shows that you don’t have to give up an old, familiar favorite to perk up your brand, and that there’s value in nostalgia.

It’s understandable why Burger King feels it needs to shake things up, considering its lackluster sales growth. In the U.S. and Canada, where the new campaign will begin before rolling out globally, comparable-store sales rose just 0.1% in the first quarter, in part because of bad weather. But comps also rose only 0.2% for all of 2013.

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What Burger King risks is the emotional attachment consumers have with brands and their slogans. People probably pay a premium for Morton salt because we know that “when it rains it pours”; we use Bounty paper towels because they’re “the quicker picker-upper”; and we reach for Energizer (NYSE: ENR) batteries because they “keep going, and going, and going.”

Sometimes brands can successfully transition away from a tag line that has become synonymous with their company, like Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ: DNKN) did in going from “time to make the donuts” to “America runs on Dunkin.” Yet that was because it chose to focus on its coffee rather than its sweet confections; it also had the benefit of making sense when spoken.

Not so with “Be Your Way.” Burger King seemingly wanted to keep some kind of attachment to its past, but focus-grouped itself into something unintelligible. Sure, BK is trying to change the focus from its product — the customization of its burgers — to something of a lifestyle choice, but I’m not sure how many people are living la vida loca the Burger King way. Doing away with the creepy, big-headed King a few years back was a smart move; eliminating the classic “Have it your way” slogan, not so much.

If Burger King hopes edginess will turn sales around, I think it will be sorely disappointed when customers have their way by not responding to the change.

 

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