Let’s Revisit the Subservient Chicken
Burger King’s surreal ad campaign circa 2004 transformed how we thought about viral online marketing
In part two of our new series on the internet’s olden times, we return to the dawn of viral online marketing. This is the next installment of our weekly Internet Nostalgia series, which looks back at stories that captured the imagination and attention of the internet for a fleeting moment and then vanished as everyone moved on to something else. The world of the internet moves so quickly that things that happened five years ago might as well be black-and-white newsreel footage at this point. This series looks back at those phenomena and what they told us about the internet, and ourselves. If you have a suggested topic, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last week, we looked at Justine Sacco’s flight to Africa. Today: The Subservient Chicken.
Date: April 2004
The story: You can call me a rube all you want — you’ll be right! — but when The Subservient Chicken showed up in 2004, I didn’t know it was a marketing campaign. I just thought it was a weird, almost creepy website in which you could type things into a box and get a man in a very stupid-looking chicken costume do the things you typed into the box. To be fair, it was reasonable for me to think this, since this was exactly what The Subservient Chicken did. He did what you told him to. That’s why he was Subservient, after all.
There was something unnerving, even snuff-film-y, about the Subservient Chicken. (Why in the world was he wearing stockings?) But that only added to the intrigue. What was this thing?
The video above was made after the jig was up: Hence the “BK Tendercrisp.” It turned out The Subservient Chicken was just a marketing campaign, a pretty wild one, for Burger King. It was the brainchild of marketing firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which is to say, the whole thing was a work. And it was a highly…