That Andy Warhol Burger King ad was misguided and pathetic

Perhaps you watched the Super Bowl yesterday. Perhaps, like me, you found the game, the halftime show, and the ads underwhelming. But what the heck was going on with that Andy Warhol ad for Burger King? Go ahead and waste 45 seconds watching it:

If you had 45 seconds to put your brand in front of about 100 million viewers for $4 million or so, is this what you would do?

Where this footage came from

According to Adweek, in 1982, a documentarian named Jorgen Leth made a documentary called “66 Scenes in America” that included this footage of the late Andy Warhol eating a Whopper. I’d actually heard about it since it was mentioned in one of the “Men in Black” films.

Burger King’s creative shop David Miami found the footage and pitched it to Burger King.

Here’s a direct quote from Burger King’s global chief marketing officer:

“It’s one of those things that when David brought it to us and we watched the film our heads exploded. . . . What are the chances that your brand will have an asset like that? It’s beautiful!”

And here’s what David Miami’s executive creative director Juan Javier Peña Plaza had to say:

“We thought, ‘What if we put this in the middle of the Super Bowl?’ And then everyone’s head exploded. . . . It was like, holy shit if we manage to put this in the middle of the biggest extravaganza of the year, we’re going to blow everyone’s minds. It’s so simple, and it’s sort of meta. You’re breaking the fourth wall in a way and messing with people.”

So naturally they did the work to secure the rights from the Andy Warhol Foundation and the estate of the documentarian. Because, as Machado said:

“The typical Super Bowl ad tends to be loud music, full of celebrities and really screaming loud to break the clutter. . . . We see our ad as breaking all the rules of the typical Super Bowl ad—our ad doesn’t have music, doesn’t have voiceover, is not 30 seconds, was not shot this year. Our ad was shot in 1982. I believe that it will act like a silent assassin during the Super Bowl—it will cut through the noise with silence.”

Silent assassin my ass

Here’s what this ad did: it got your attention. Then it just made you wonder what pathetic fools wasted their money this way.

Warhol doesn’t appear to be enjoying the food very much. (Apparently he preferred McDonalds.)

It looks floppy and unappetizing. It looks like a real Whopper, not like the puffed up ones in a typical commercial. Except a real Whopper from 2019 has lettuce and stuff like that, and this one appears to have just a flat burger patty.

No one who would consider eating at Burger King remembers who Andy Warhol is. No one who remembers Andy Warhol likes to go to Burger King.

Who is this aimed at? Pop arts fans from the 80s who like fast food? Not a very broad demographic. And the Super Bowl is about broad demographics.

“But you’re talking about it!”

Yes, I am. I don’t eat there. My kids don’t eat there (and didn’t watch the game). And you don’t eat there. Prove me wrong: If you’re reading this and the ad made you want to check out Burger King, please say so in the comments.

The people who are talking about it aren’t eating there.

This agency and CMO lost sight of what advertising is supposed to do, which is connect some sort of emotion with a product to create desire or awareness. Burger King already has 100% awareness. This creates no desire.

What courage.

Next time you have an advertising, marketing, or promotional idea that “makes your head explode,” ask whether it will make a difference to potential buyers.

If not, keep thinking, because you’re not there yet.

16 responses to “That Andy Warhol Burger King ad was misguided and pathetic

  1. Ha! This is hilarious. Four of us sat in my living room and watched that ad yesterday, and we all looked at each other in a puzzled manner until someone asked “does that make you want to eat at Burger King?” To which we all replied “nope” and poured another beer.

  2. All it made me wonder is … a)who takes the entire cap off of a squeeze bottle, and b)who dips a hamburger? LOL. What a boring commercial. The whole NON extravaganza of last night was sad. Thank goodness I was at home and could switch channels at will.

  3. Even worse… I like Andy Warhol. I even met him once at a book signing (yes I have his autograph). When I saw this spot I thought, how did they get a guy who looks like him for this? Because I know Andy wouldn’t have made this for a commercial (who knew he’d made this film?) And to your point, if you like one, it’s highly unlikely you like the other.

  4. The whole point of Super Bowl commercials is to leverage the huge audience into mindshare. It is not to sell product, but to get people thinking/talking about a brand.

    What commercials are people talking about today? This ad. The Bud/GoT ad. Maybe one or two others. The rest were forgettable failures that didn’t rise above the noise floor.

    A few months from now, the ad will be forgotten. But in the limbic systems of millions, they’ll be an association that makes them 0.01% more likely to choose BK over McD.

    Mission accomplished.

  5. “Cut through the noise with silence”
    “Sort of meta”
    “Everyone’s head exploded”
    It’s every Marketing caricature, come together in one place. Were it not for the gratuitous use of his image, Warhol probably would’ve had a nice chuckle over it.

  6. Not joking or trying to be contrarian: I knew what it was, and loved it, and appreciated it, and I will now make a conscious effort to go to Burger King in the future for my occasional fast-food-hamburger needs (because for some reason, when I have a cold, that’s the only thing I feel like eating), on the sole basis of appreciation for the existence of this commercial. I have never before felt that my own personal demographic was being targeted so narrowly and delightfully in a Super Bowl ad. I am the 0.0000001 percent. And this kind of proves J. Bernoff’s point, but also R.J. Woodhead’s.

    But I like the Heinz comment so much—particularly in light of the Pittsburgh connection–that Roxanne deserves a pre-emptive Clio.

    1. Well, I am one of the very few on here who DO eat there, however rarely. Normally I loathe fast food but when on a road trip where time and mileage are of the essence, I stop in for a quick Veggie Burger. They are the only burger chain I’m aware who offer a vegetarian option and it tastes right good too.

  7. I agree with your take but as you state that you did not watch the Super Bowl I should point out that this was one of the best ads of this Super Bowl. So a misguided and pathetic advertisement was far superior to all but one or two of its competition.

  8. We’re talking about Burger King and their ad (and Andy) … ergo success (at some level of measurement).
    Also, buying an ad at that level provides access to game tickets, meeting rooms and events at the Superb Owl. Great cross promotion opportunities and chance to salute best franchises and distribution partners.

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