Why Would Burger King Sell Red Burgers in Japan?

Sell red what? That’s what I thought when I first saw the headline, “The Inside Story on Why Burger King Sells Red Burgers in Japan.”

I didn’t think someone would make this up, especially since Advertising Age was reporting the story. Well, I became intrigued and felt like this may make for an interesting blog post on a site like this, exploring all forms of creativity and innovation.

Even in a land of relentlessly wacky fast food innovations, Burger King Japan has nabbed a lot of attention with its all-black burgers.

BK's Black Burger

Burger King Japan’s black burger.

Yeah, you heard right. The sight of pitch-black buns and cheese, evidently, really gets to people.

Pass the Pepto, please!

But wait, that’s nothing.

Burger King Japan recently launched an all-red burger, with red-colored cheese, buns and, obviously, hot sauce. A Google search turned up more than 150 headlines in English alone on the new creation.

What Better Way to Get Brand Attention on a Tight Budget?

The Aka Samurai from Burger King Japan. Also comes with chicken.

BK's Red Burger

As some of you may be gasping about now at the sight of the Red Burger (personally, I prefer the sight of the Red version over the Black), the question arising in my mind was “why?”

Obviously, the folks at Ad Age were curious, too. So, Burger King Japan’s general manager for business management, Masanori Tatsuiwa, who worked previously at agencies including Ogilvy & Mather Japan, answered a few questions about the red Aka Samurai Burger (buns and cheese tinted with tomato powder), the black Kuro Burger (which used bamboo charcoal and squid ink), as well as the brand’s “flame-grilled” personal fragrance.

Here are excerpts from that interview . . .

Ad Age: Where do these ideas come from, and what’s your process?

Mr. Tatsuiwa: We sit down with marketing and R&D look for something unusual. When we start to think about something, we have taste tests inside the restaurant. We have 93 restaurants in Japan.

At the moment we don’t have much ad budget in our hands, so we do almost everything by ourselves. We are not using any creative agencies for these products. This way we don’t need any big money to expand our awareness in the market.

Burger King is not big compared to the competitor companies in Japan. McDonald’s has about 3,000 restaurants in Japan. The local MOS Burger chain has almost 1,400 restaurants. (Editor’s note: Burger King re-entered Japan in 2007, after a first attempt had failed after eight years in 2001 amid tough fast food competition.)

Ad Age: How big is your marketing team?

Mr. Tatsuiwa: Five people. Including R&D.

Ad Age: So, why red this time?

Mr. Tatsuiwa: This is the fourth year we’ve had a black burger, and we wanted to have something new happen this year. And we were also thinking about the Burger King “Angry Whopper,” (a jalapeno-laden rendition of the classic), that launched in some markets, but with the color the same as usual. Brown. We thought making it red would make people curious and express the hot taste.

Ad Age: Are other markets picking up on these ideas?

Mr. Tatsuiwa: Burger King Singapore has a black burger and a white burger this year. Burger King Malaysia has a black burger called the Ninja.

Ad Age: On April 1 you had a one-day-only sale of something called “Flame-Grilled Fragrance.” (The 1,000-piece limited edition flasks sold for $41 and came with a Whopper. They sold out.) Why a perfume?

Mr. Tatsuiwa: The idea came from Burger King in the U.S., they had a perfume several years ago. We thought we could use that on “Whopper Day” in Japan.

We were thinking if we announced a launch for this kind of perfume for April 1 (yes, April Fool’s Day), some people might think it wasn’t true (and that would generate more conversations about it). But we seriously produced this product, and that was very effective. We collaborated with a local perfume company and asked them to produce a flame-grilled smell. It was a very unique order for them. They worked very hard on it. (I’m not making this up, gang. Sounds like the perfect White Elephant gift.)

Ad Age: How were sales?

Mr. Tatsuiwa: It was a record for one-day sales on a weekday.

Now, honestly, even as promotion-crazy as we tend to be in the US of A, I wonder if either one of these would fly. What do you think, marketers and creative folks? Would any of you client companies have the guts to try something like this or to let your agencies develop this kind of special promotion?

I doubt it.

Hell, if it tastes good, why not. Just put on a blindfold while eating one (especially the black version).

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