Lessons from the King

by Katie Goodell


The boxing match last month between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao was called “The Fight of the Century.”1 It set revenue and viewership records with over 4 million pay-per-view purchases, making it the most viewed PPV event in history.2

About a month later, the Belmont Stakes horse race attracted 22 million TV viewers.3 The third horse race of the Triple Crown was all the more exciting this year, as the horse American Pharaoh had won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes already, setting up the possibility for a three-in-a-row victory. And sure enough, American Pharaoh crossed the line ahead of the rest, making him the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Besides both being monumental sporting events and cultural milestones of recent history, there was something a bit odd that these two events had in common: the Burger King, mascot of the fast food chain, was in attendance at both the fight and the horse race.


Of all the celebrities there, you didn’t expect to see that creepy-looking, plastic-faced guy, did you?!

The crowned King character has been part of Burger King’s advertising throughout the company’s history. However, the King mascot has been absent from BK’s branding and advertising campaigns since about 2011 – until his appearance at the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight. In the last few years, Burger King has opted for more health-focused marketing campaigns and “retired” the King.4

But this spring, we’ve seen the King come out of retirement and pop up in a couple of unexpected places.

It was reported that Burger King paid $1 million for their masked mascot to be a part of Mayweather’s entourage as he entered the ring (along with Justin Bieber).

At the Belmont, the King was strategically sitting behind top horse trainer Bob Baffert, the trainer of American Pharaoh and many other Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winning horses. Baffert’s wife told Time magazine that Burger King paid $200,000 to have the King sit in their box and was shown on TV behind the Bafferts many times.5

It’s clear that the BK marketing team is willing to pay big bucks for unique opportunities to get their mascot in front of public audiences and to be seen in unconventional locales.

As marketers, what can we learn from this weird man with the perpetual smile and his corporate sponsor company’s marketing strategy? It wasn’t an accident that this character has been present at two of the biggest cultural moments of the year. Let’s see what we can take away from this bizarre but shockingly noticeable and definitely memorable form of guerrilla marketing.

  1. Show up where your fans and customers already are…and your competitors aren’t. Burger King has the budget to appear on a huge national (and international) stage, but they didn’t buy out advertising in the conventional manner. They (or rather, he, the King) just showed up. Think strategically about how you and your brand can be seen on a big stage by many potential customers at once. Sometimes, that might mean buying a radio spot or a formal sponsorship, but often, you can get away with more creative brand placements that don’t have to be expensive.
  2. Show your personality. Don’t be shy! Your brand should have a personality, whether or not it’s personified by giant plastic royalty. Appearing as more than just a cold, corporate provider of services will get your customers to relate to you, remember you, and refer others to you.
  3. Take calculated risks. In both cases, Burger King took a gamble by “choosing sides.” If Pacquiao had won the match, it’s possible that Mayweather’s entourage might not have been looked upon quite as favorably. If Keen Ice or Madefromlucky had edged past American Pharaoh in the final stretch, Bob Baffert wouldn’t have gotten quite as much airtime. Granted, both Mayweather and American Pharaoh were favored to win – so while the risk was present, it was small. Try something new, but weigh pros and cons carefully with any unconventional marketing tactics.
  4. Do the unexpected. I sure didn’t expect to see a monarch mascot among the fancy-dressed horserace viewers, or that big crown bouncing along behind a pro boxer. But I noticed it. Laughed. Talked about it later with my family. (And now wrote a blog post about it for you!) People will take notice, and if your brand personality is well-received, be entertained and pleased to see you associated with something they care about.

It’s still up for debate whether or not the King is loveable or obnoxious, but I do know that many took notice of his regal presence. Cheers to your marketing efforts this summer as you find creative ways to make your brand’s presence known in your community!

1. WGNTV: http://wgntv.com/2015/05/06/burger-king-pays-1-million-to-be-in-mayweathers-entourage/
2. Deadline: http://deadline.com/2015/05/mayweather-pacquiao-pay-per-view-record-ppv-viewership-1201425241/
3. Zap2it: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/06/08/belmont-stakes-stanley-cup-final-game-2-post-viewership-milestones-on-nbcs-championship-saturday/413824/
4. Consumerist: http://consumerist.com/2015/06/01/burger-kings-fantastically-creepy-king-mascot-is-back/
5. Time magazine: http://time.com/3912017/triple-crown-bob-baffert-trainer-american-pharoah/

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