Burger King launched the three-phase TV campaign in late November. The first phase involved a search for Herb, who was described as "the one man in America who had never tried a Burger King Whopper"; the second phase introduced Herb to consumers; and the third had Herb visiting retail outlets, where he gave cash to customers who recognized him.
Analysts generally pooh-poohed the campaign, especially when Herb turned out to be a bespectacled, balding, eccentric-looking fellow. Herb, they said, did little for the company's image or its sales.
"For years," said Lempert, "Burger King had built up a big following by emphasizing that it broils, rather than fries, its hamburgers. Then all of a sudden, out of a clear blue sky, comes this lackluster, almost pathetic campaign, with this pathetic character, and the bottom line was that nobody really cared who Herb was, when they found him, or whether he liked the hamburger."
Not so, replied Ben Morse, director of corporate communications at Burger King.
While the company had not yet tabulated the campaign's effect on sales, surveys showed that it had generated a high awareness of the company and enabled it to remain competitive "at a time when many of our competitors were doing a lot of heavy couponing - giving their food away," he said.
He said the company deliberately sought to portray Herb as a nerd because ''you'd expect a person who hadn't tried one of our Whoppers to be unusual."
He noted that, since his unveiling, Herb had become a celebrity of sorts, making appearances on TV news, talk and entertainment shows and at public events.
"That doesn't sound like someone the American public dislikes: It sounds like someone they very much like," he said.
The Herb campaign will be replaced with a new series of ads that are scheduled to begin Tuesday. The new campaign, on which the company expects to spend between $25 million and $30 million, will focus on a new product called Chicken Tenders.