'Simpsons' fans have it their way

Cartoon site Burger King's latest foray into online marketing

Burger King's latest film promotion — SimpsonizeMe.com, which allows consumers to turn digital photos into animated, yellow versions of themselves — is the fast-food chain's latest effort to "push the envelope" with cutting-edge technology and original content in its entertainment-based marketing initiatives.

"Historically, what we've done a lot of is borrowing content from our partners, and now we're much more active in developing more of our own proprietary content," said Brian Gies, vp marketing impact at Burger King. "We're taking advantage of the advancement in technology, and we're accessing broader categories outside of feature film as well, like video games and music. There are not a whole lot of folks who are taking these kinds of risks. We're pushing the envelope every time we create a new promotion."

SimpsonizeMe has had nearly 32 million hits since its Monday bow.

Since its Subservient Chicken Web site, which drew 1 million visitors in just its first week in April 2004, Burger King has tried to focus on innovation to engage consumers. The site, which was created to look as if it uses a webcam, depicts an actor in a chicken suit who responds when users type in their commands. In what turned out to be an extremely effective viral marketing campaign, the site took literally the Burger King ad slogan, "Get chicken just the way you like it." The Subservient Chicken character was used in subsequent Burger King ad campaigns.

In fall 2005, Burger King might have pushed the envelope a bit too far. To introduce its Chicken Fries product, the chain launched another viral marketing campaign with a faux metal band named Coq Roq that featured music videos, downloadable ringtones and band merchandise for sale on its Web site. The fictional band, which performed wearing chicken masks to parody the mask-donning style of heavy metal band Slipknot, also appeared in TV ads. But controversy over the Coq Roq campaign, including complaints over double entendres and a threatened lawsuit by Slipknot, forced Burger King to request that some of the Coq Roq content be changed.

Then, in July 2006, in a huge step toward producing its own original content, Burger King and its ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, said that they were soliciting a movie deal for a film titled "Above the King," a comedy about a teen misfit who lives in an apartment above a Burger King restaurant and develops an unlikely friendship with an aristocrat. Indeed, the major shift in the chain's marketing strategy has been orchestrated in concert with CP+B, which took over Burger King's ad account in January 2003.

Gies said Burger King has had many meetings with producers, directors and studios about making the film. "The majority of the meetings have been met with a great deal of receptivity," he said. "We have a couple of options from a production perspective as well from a distribution perspective."

For its latest venture, Burger King has teamed with 20th Century Fox to give "Simpsons" fans an opportunity to be transformed into characters that look like they belong in Springfield with Homer, Marge, Bart and crew. Gies said Burger King is using new technology that accesses biometrics to measure intricate facial features.

As of Thursday afternoon, SimpsonizeMe.com had 31.8 million hits with more than 1 million faces Simpsonized, a Burger King spokeswoman said.

"The Simpsons Movie" bows July 27.