The Burger King can't fool me.

Advertising deconstructed.
Oct. 24 2005 5:32 AM

Masked

Is Burger King trying to put one over on me?

(Continued from Page 1)

Grapevine actually spanks Crispin for an earlier Burger King effort—the "subservient chicken" Web site, which allowed you to direct a man in a chicken costume to do things "your way," à la the Burger King slogan. The book claims that even during the chicken's heyday, McDonald's Web traffic increased more than Burger King's. Interesting tidbit. The thing I noticed most about this campaign, though, was the disappointment that trailed in its wake. When the chicken came into people's lives as a quirky, unidentified Web project (the BK branding was very subtle), they thought he was sort of cool. Later, when they realized that he was promoting a Burger King sandwich, these same people became bitter and resentful. No one enjoys being duped into forwarding an advertisement to all her friends. Some people even felt they had to apologize.

Unfortunately, mild deceptions—mostly in the form of anonymous viral campaigns like this—seem to be Crispin's specialty. And it's paid off for them. Crispin has been the hottest ad house in the country for quite some time, and it won this year's Clio for best agency. The acclaim is well-deserved: I love a lot of their TV spots, and they're at the forefront of "media agnosticism" (using the Web and nontraditional techniques in concert with print and TV ads). Everything's working for them right now.

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But I'd worry, especially given the looming crackdown those Ad Age stories seem to suggest, that Crispin's bread-and-butter moves are about to meet with some backlash. Tricking me as a means of promotion just makes me mad. Routinely tricking consumers with anonymous buzz could ruin a brand's image. Of course, for now, Crispin gets precisely what it wanted: I'm writing about their fricking Halloween masks. Just $9, makes a terrific costume!

Wow, and as I look at the site now it appears the mask was so popular that it completely sold out. This depresses me for two reasons: 1) It's Halloween—the one night when transgression is celebrated and condoned, with rampant death-worship, cross-dressing, and mischief of all kinds—and we're volunteering to dress up as advertisements for massive corporations. Last year, iPod costumes, this year the King. 2) I can't help but wonder if this is another trick from Crispin—pretending the mask sold out to suggest hot demand. Is my paranoia spinning out of control? Or is it just a natural response? Once you go down this rabbit hole, it's tough to get back out.

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Readers, help me find my bearings: Am I overreacting? Is this the nature of the game? Did any of you buy a BK mask, and if so, why? Send responses to adreportcard@slate.com.

* Correction, October 31, 2005: This piece initially misspelled the name of the firm BzzAgent. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.