Burger King Charts New Internet Strategy

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After years of a meandering Internet strategy, Burger King Corp. soon will commence focused online marketing to drive business to stores.


"The challenge is to turn the Internet from an information source to a loyalty source," said Kim Miller, senior director of external communications at Burger King, Miami.


To that end, the nation's No. 2 burger chain named VML Inc., Kansas City, MO, as interactive agency of record. Online work for Burger King had been shuffled among five agencies that primarily handle other elements of marketing for the brand.


In its current incarnation, burgerking.com offers restaurant locations, a nutrition guide, corporate information, gift certificates and toys. But there is little to link the site with offline marketing or restaurants.


"They're looking to incorporate the Internet into their marketing toolkit and really utilize their Internet site to, one, drive traffic into the stores and, two, convert that traffic into sales," said Chris Anthony, senior account director at VML. "Their focus really for the next 18 months is incremental traffic into the stores and converting that into a positive return on their investment."


VML, owned by WPP Group PLC, is charged with relaunching a more consumer-focused site and an extranet for employees and franchisees. VML also will create integrated online promotions for children and adults, and will evaluate and manage Web-based promotional opportunities. Other responsibilities include site measurement, reporting and internal support duties.


"We have several promotions that will go live in the next couple of weeks," Anthony said. "They are promotions that Burger King has developed from an offline standpoint, and we're working to incorporate them into the online world."


Though he refused to give details, one such promotion this month is called "Cash is King." One launching next month is with New Line Cinema's upcoming movie release, "The Lord of the Rings."


"In-store promotional activity that we're merchandising in the online world will help drive additional traffic into the store for consumers to participate in the promotions," Anthony said.


Founded in 1954, Burger King has 11,370 restaurants nationwide and in 58 countries. More than 92 percent of the restaurants are owned and operated by independent franchisees. Revenue last year was $11.2 billion. Diageo PLC, a British food and drinks conglomerate, owns Burger King.


Until VML's appointment, Burger King's online marketing was handled by agencies including DraftWorldwide, Media Edge, McCann-Erickson, Campbell Mithun and Uniworld. Of late, DraftWorldwide mostly was handling interactive, besides its main promotional marketing responsibilities.


VML executives declined to mention the size of the account but said it was in the same league as other VML accounts like Sprint Corp., Colgate-Palmolive Co. and H&R Block Inc.


"It is going to be one of our top five accounts," said Kirsten Wheatley, VML spokeswoman. "It's a very significant piece of business with a lot of opportunities for growth. We're going to employ the equivalent of 15 full-time people on the account."


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