Burger King Is No Apprentice at Building Web Traffic

An appearance on the opening episode of the third season of “The Apprentice” Jan. 20 generated tremendous traffic to Burger King Corp.'s Web site.

The site at www.bk.com Jan. 20-25 received 418,000 visits and 280,000 unique visitors who averaged 9 minutes, 55 seconds online. The response resulted from the NBC television show, but also from an “Apprentice”-themed interactive burger-building experience.

“We're finding a lot of people are spending time on building the burger and having fun with it,” said Gillian Smith, senior director of media and global collaboration at Burger King, Miami. “The burgers that people are submitting are far from our traditional burgers. But it's reinforcing our brand proposition: 'Have it your way.' “

Burger King executive chef Calvin Harris invites bk.com visitors to create a sandwich, name it and market it with a unique look and headline. Participants, or “project managers,” will get feedback in an online boardroom from Harris, Burger King CEO Greg Brenneman and chief marketing officer Russ Klein.

Those interested in hearing further from Burger King can enter a sweepstakes to win an American Airlines vacation package for two to any of the 48 contiguous states. So far, 10,000 consumers have entered.

Burger King interactive ad agency VML, Kansas City, MO, created the current online promotion.

This is not Burger King's first use of the Internet to promote its brand. Its sites at www.subservientchicken.com and www.chickenfight.com have together attracted 14 million unique visitors since their launch.

Smith said the current “Apprentice”-themed online marketing, supported by in-restaurant signage and on-air promos prior to the episode's airing, is comparable to past efforts to further its brand proposition of the moment.

“Overall, our microsite strategy and a lot of our interactive strategy has been to pull consumers in instead of pushing them,” she said. “So we're trying to create destinations for consumers to engage them to interact with our brand in a way that's fun, relevant and part of pop culture.”

“The Apprentice” has become part of consumer culture. Hosted by billionaire developer Donald Trump, the show is produced by NBC with Mark Burnett Productions. Competitors vie to work in a Trump company. Only the fittest who survives all tasks becomes the new Trump apprentice.

A byproduct of Trump's exercise is product placement through financial deals with marketers like Burger King. On-air exposure and the resultant publicity is traded for dollars to the show's producers. McDonald's Corp. is said to have turned down the chance to participate in the show.

In some cases, however, there is no quid pro quo for an “Apprentice” appearance. Weddings site TheKnot.com's use by a team in the second season led to a rise in traffic and advertisers. However, Yahoo Local, a new search product, paid to be involved in a plot. That episode, in which motel guests rate and review their lodgings on Yahoo Local, aired Jan. 27.

But all “The Apprentice” paid product placements and marketing are integrated into the storyline. Take the Jan. 20 episode. The two teams were tasked to create a sandwich that Burger King would sell in its restaurants nationwide for a limited time. The winning team's product was called the Western Angus Steak Burger. The sandwich, priced at a suggested $3.49, is available in 7,800 Burger King restaurants.

So far, “The Apprentice” has proved a test lab, but not an excuse to exhaust capacity at the manufacturing plant.

“We've enough supply of the burger to last through Feb. 4,” Smith said.

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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