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Exclusive MI6 Q&A: Burger King's Russ Klein Is 'The King'

Why did bizarre Xbox advergames like Sneak King make sense to a massive brand such as Burger King? Gamasutra caught up with MI6 keynoter and BK marketing president Russ Klein for an exclusive Q&A on why the fast-food giant used console games, and t
At the MI6 game marketing conference in San Francisco yesterday, Burger King's marketing president Russ Klein, the impetus behind Microsoft and Blitz Games' line of Xbox 360/Xbox advergames, discussed his views on social media and using offbeat games such as Sneak King to spread brand awareness. The Blitz Game-developed dual-boot Xbox 360 and Xbox games in the specially commissioned collection were Pocketbike Racer, Big Bumpin and Sneak King. They were available for purchase for $3.99 with a BK Value Meal during the holiday 2006 period, and sold more than 2 million units in the first four weeks of the promotion. Following his keynote, Gamasutra caught up with Klein for an exclusive Q&A about on why the fast-food giant used console games, and the 'star power' of The King (pictured). Was the [advergaming] idea Burger King's impetus when you guys met at Cannes? RK: The origins of our coming together are a little bit difficult to sort out. Chris [DiCesare, director of Xbox creative marketing] and I originally met several years ago at the advertising festival in Cannes. At that time, we talked about doing something together, and thought that there ought to be some way to become partners. I think that created a foundation that then ultimately led to a follow-up from one of our agencies to Chris to go from concept to reality around the games. It was almost kind of a spontaneous mutual interest. I heard it was a contributor to Burger King's recent 40% increase in sales in a specific quarter. RK: Certainly the Xbox program was one key part -- if not the key part -- of a quarter that was a very strong performance for us both, in terms of customer traffic, overall sales, and our financial performance. We certainly attributed the majority of our success during that quarter to this program. Are you looking further into the games space? You mentioned mobile games and downloadables. RK: Absolutely. We are active, curious folks in this space. We have resources devoted in our agencies to digital media content. Two successes in particular -- the Subservient Chicken and then the Xbox program -- have sent a signal to this whole arena that we are players, we want to get the phone call, and if it makes sense for us and is relevant for our customer, that we're somebody who wants to continue to grow our profile in that space. So I guess people can expect to see more from The King in that space? I was surprised to see how well people were reacting. RK: Yeah. If not The King, then the brand. The King is certainly the preeminent icon for us right now, but you will absolutely see the Burger King brand continue to be aggressive in digital media and digital content, and will lead the way. We want to be the ones that blaze the trails. We think we get credit. There's an immeasurable factor in terms of being a first mover in these areas if you can do it, and so our plan is to continue to push that way, whether The King is the focus of it or whether other content we have is. It also seems like value-priced content like that is really appealing for people, especially when you can offer an experience that is somewhat comparable. In mobile, there are people who won't download mobile games because they cost eight bucks and don't know what it's going to be like, but if you released one for a buck, it might be [worth buying]. RK: Absolutely. The marketplace insists on value, and the marketplace always gets its way. Value for the money -- whether it's Whoppers or video games -- is a critical consideration. Until you've got the street cred to be able to go out there blind, you're not going to get people to sign up for things unless they're priced right. Eventually, you can command some pricing power, but from our point of view, we absolutely saw the value for the money component to be essential to getting into this program with Xbox. What kind of structure do you have in place for the developers? Is it a flat fee, or is it a profit share? RK: The financial construct around our partnership with Blitz is not one I have a command of with every last detail, but my understanding is that it was generally a fee-based structure for final, deliverable products with these three games. The rest of the distribution burden was on us. Do you think that going forward, given the incredible success of the games, a flat-fee model is going to continue to be viable, or do you think you'll have to move into profit sharing at some point? RK: I think that all of the stakeholders profited, so that model, to the extent that it would be replicatable with a new set of content, is a question. I don't know what the next wave of content will be, but if it were to be there, certainly the financial construct is one that I think that all of the stakeholders found profitable. It's definitely of interest to developers, because a lot of people are looking at in-game advertising or just advergames in general. Obviously the BK games stand out as the forerunner, as something that was successful all around. RK: Yeah. You have to have the star power or the equity to be the basis for a developer, though. We were fortunate in what we were able to accomplish with The King. Not every advertiser has an equity like that at their fingertips that can be parlayed into content for a game, and it's going to be incumbent on us as a company and as a brand to not only grow our business, but along the way, to continue to produce those kinds of equities and icons that can become the basis for a developer to do more with. There's also the benefit of your ability to cross-market and promote, which people don't have on their own. RK: Absolutely. Certainly Microsoft found it appealing, that we had 7,200 restaurants that were high traffic and gave them great presence during the holiday season. That was just one piece of how I think that all of the stakeholders felt like they came away from the relationship with a positive win.

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