Warhol Burger King BOOM Creative

The real winner in Burger King’s Warhol Super Bowl ad is “Branding” (and Heinz).

I know it’s not typical (or particularly self-serving) for a small (we say “boutique”), regional agency to spotlight the work of a mega brand like Burger King, and their huge agency DAVID Miami. Work that we had absolutely nothing to do with. But there’s so much here to admire, respect, and to reflect on.

The first thing that hit me about this ad is how this ad hit me. I don’t watch or read about previews of Super Bowl ads. In the same way I refuse to read spoiler alert reviews for movies. I like to experience them live, in the moment. As intended. As the audience.

As an advertising professional, I feel like it’s pretty easy to lose touch with your audiences if you spend all your time flipping through Ad Age over what the Don Draper wannabes and other shops are doing. You owe your craft, your clients, and your industry the occasional wide-eyed moments of just being there for what’s coming next.

The catch-word for this Super Bowl was “lackluster” across the board. Everyone wanted the Chiefs to be in it, everyone wanted the Patriots to tank (We’re from Pittsburgh. Trust us – it’s EVERYONE) and nobody really thought the Rams had a chance. Ultimately, everyone was right.

After a frustratingly sleepy first half, and an arguably abysmal halftime show, we had already been submitted to a boatload of mostly, well, lackluster ads, with few exceptions. The celebrity moments were wasted. (Hyundai, M&M’s, Stella Artois) The obligatory “feel good” spots felt expectedly good. (Google, Washington Post, Microsoft ) And the dueling CGI spectacle ads had Bud Light easily winning over the horribly wasted Pepsi spot (Cardi B. ?Please? Not Okurrr, Steve Carell. Definitely not Okurrr.) But the NFL’s own 100 year gala and CBS’s own Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone spots were some of the best ad moments of the night. Until…

Out of nowhere in the 4th quarter, right about the moment that even those of us that had tried to remain hopeful all night had come to terms with the fact that the Rams weren’t going to pull it off – on comes vintage footage of Andy Warhol. Eating a vintage Burger King Whopper with a full size vintage bottle of Heinz Ketchup on the table. And. Nothing. Else. Apart from some well-captured and boosted natural sound from the original filming that ASMR fans will want to bookmark forever.

“It’s like a silent assassin in the clutter of the Super Bowl.

Fernando Machado, Burger King’s global chief marketing officer.

Part of what makes this ad notable is how it came to be and the instances surrounding it. First, it’s all original footage. Not CGI as some who have seen it without ever knowing about the original might suspect in these “anything is possible” times. It was filmed for a 1982 documentary: 66 Scenes From America by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth. It’s been referenced before by more obviously in-tune folks (Iggy Pop for one) but it’s hardly in the zeitgeist of 2019 SnapCulture.

Secondly, in a world where the classic TV :30 video has devolved into :05 second pre-roll excerpts, partially due to sketchy marketing surveys of device based attention spans, but mostly due to the incredible costs associated with broadcast airtime in general and in particular the legendarily exorbitant Super Bow price tags – Burger King paid for and aired :45 seconds of the original 4:20 clip. #Wow

Next, the ad is unadorned with anything in the way of any modern marketing “must-haves” other than a vague, final #EatLikeAndy hashtag. No voiceover. No jingle. No call to action. Barely even a sloganized end slate. Not to mention the fact that there are probably fewer post-millennials or Gen Z’s that had any idea what or who the goofy looking dude they just saw eating an old looking Whopper was than an agency account exec. would feel comfortable spending that kind of currency on.

All that stuff is just logistics. The spirit of the ad is the best part about it. Andy Warhol, the champion of turning everyday advertising elements into art simply by using them in ways that pointed out the fact that – hey, they were fucking “art” in the first place when they were designed, just showing up as an awkward, unlikely, silent spokesperson for Burger King, thirty-two years after his death is probably one of the greatest examples of everything he stood for – blurring the lines between art and commerce from the grave, as it were.

You might not agree that all this is pure genius marketing (it IS by the way), but it’s as bold as advertising as has ever been seen at a Super Bowl for multitudes of reasons. Not the least of which – name another advertiser that would ever agree to sharing that kind of spotlight with another mega brand? Sure, at first blush it seems complimentary to feature a prominent Heinz Ketchup bottle in a hamburger ad. After all, BK serves Heinz ketchup, don’t they? But heads up – Heinz doesn’t supply it for free, and they could have easily blurred or just digitally removed the bottle. Or used any other :45 seconds that didn’t show Andy using the ketchup. You think BK got any support from Heinz on this maneuver? I’m really doubting it. So – bold once again.

Part of the wonderful irony is that if you watch the interview below with Jørgen Leth about the original filming of this scene from 1982, he reveals that people never thought Warhol would do it because “He knew his own worth.” and had already offered himself up as a spokesperson for $75,000 (in 1982 dollars) elsewhere. So it’s a bit incongruous that Andy did this as part of a documentary. Or is it? I prefer to believe that Andy Warhol always knew exactly what he was doing. I’m not saying that Andy Warhol predicted a future where his foundation eventually would get waaay more than $75,000 for him to star as a Burger King spokesperson. But I’m not saying he didn’t…

Later in the interview, Leth reveals that he had tried to be sensitive about not representing ANY brand name products and had ordered hamburgers with”neutral” packaging for the filming. Three orders arrived. Two with no branding, one from Burger King. Warhol looked at them and said “Where’s the McDonalds?” because “Their design is better.” when Leth offered to send back out for McDonalds, Warhol acquiesced to just eat the Whopper to save time. But NOT to either of the ones that had “neutral” packaging.

THAT’s Warhol. And that’s knowing the value of branding at its absolute core.

Scot Fleming, Chief Creative Officer
BOOM Creative