The breakup of Burger King and its ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is a textbook case of how agency-client relationships end. Recent management turmoil at the client was bad enough, but CP+B, the U.S.'s hottest ad agency, compounded its problems by insulting the client and letting its best-known executive, creative chief Alex Bogusky, walk off into the sunset amid the crisis.
The BK-CP+B relationship was celebrated for several innovative campaigns, including Subservient Chicken; the creepy, grinning Burger King figure; and the Whopper Freakout, in which customers were told erroneously that the burger had been pulled from the menu. The efforts cemented Bogusky's rep as the hottest ad executive in the business; he remains widely admired on Madison Avenue.
No matter how good the creative, however, it cannot withstand the No.1 rule of the ad biz: When the individuals who forged the agency-client relationship disappear, the agency can expect to be fired. Here's the timeline of turmoil:
- January 2009: Bogusky authors a diet book that suggests fast-food restaurants' large portions are to blame for obesity crisis.
- September 2009: Chief marketing officer Russ Klein quits in a totally weird way, citing a need to spend some time "sharpening his sword" to slay a bigger "dragon."
- December 2009: Bogusky receives a large share of a $39 million management earnout. By amazing coincidence he starts to lose interest in the ad business.
- May 2010: Natalia Franco joins BK as EVP/global chief marketing officer.
- June 2010: Bogusky insults BK by suggesting that fast food companies should not be allowed to advertise to children.
- July 2010: Bogusky (pictured, on a parody "collectors' plate") quits the ad business. I predict that the relationship between BK and CP+B is now not "stable" and that "the BK business bears all the signs of an advertising assignment about to move from one agency to another."
- September 2010: Burger King is acquired by 3G. A new CEO, Bernardo Hees, is installed.
- December 2010: Burger King's North American CMO, Mike Kappitt, leaves.
- February 2011: Franco leaves after only nine months on the job. She is replaced chief brand and operations officer Jonathan Fitzpatrick.
- March 2011: BK and CP+B part ways.
And while Bogusky was once hailed as a creative genius who grew a small Miami ad shop into a global presence, he now looks like a destructive egomaniac who trashed his clients and walked out on his colleagues as soon as it made him colossally rich. While CP+B could not control the changes at the client, Bogusky's actions were all well within his control and entirely preventable. Way to go, Alex.
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- Biting the Hand That Feeds: Burger King's Adman Calls for Ban on Marketing to Kids