Chapter 12 Advertising and Public Relations
The Subservient Chicken
Typing www.subservient-chicken.com into a web browser will lead the user to a site featuring video footage of a person dressed in a chicken suit. The user can then type commands, causing the chicken to perform a variety of actions. Although the chicken does not actively promote a particular product, it does appear on the Burger King website—the URL connects to a Burger King–hosted site. In fact, the Subservient Chicken was created for Burger King in 2005 to advertise a chicken sandwich. In only a year, more than 13 million unique visitors came to the site just to see what the chicken would do.Nat Ives, “Interactive Viral Campaigns Ask Users to Spread the Word,” New York Times, February 18, 2005, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9807EEDF113AF93BA25751C0A9639C8B63.
Given advertising’s somewhat scandalous history, the phenomenon of viral advertising is nothing short of incredible. During the 1800s, public opinion ranked advertising as an immoral, lowbrow profession, full of liars and outlandish publicists.William M. O’Barr, “A Brief History of Advertising in America,” Advertising & Society Review, 2005, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/asr/v006/6.3unit02.html#O%27Barr. Early magazines such as Harper’s Weekly initially refused to carry ads. Even after most forms of media had begun accepting advertisments, the spots annoyed hosts as well as readers, listeners, and viewers. In both its radio and television formats, the popular Jack Benny Show regularly mocked the sponsor mentions for Jell-O that announcers had to make during the show. During the 1960s, advertisements actually capitalized on the American public’s fatigue with traditional advertising techniques. Nearly 40 years later, the arrival of digital video recorder (DVR) technology was heralded as a means for television watchers to eliminate obnoxious advertisements altogether. Then, in 2005, more than 13 million people sought out a commercial of their own volition—even repeatedly going back to it—to see what it would do next.
The Subservient Chicken campaign was truly a mix of advertising and public relations. The website was covered widely in the press, received commentary from bloggers, and was shared among millions of users who had discovered new commands for the chicken. Advertisements for the associated chicken sandwich on television and in print ads reinforced all this free publicity. This campaign demonstrates the ways that advertising and public relations are related and even complement each other. Given the popularity of such campaigns, it is not difficult to see the cultural effects of advertising and public relations.