National

Burger King sends the king packing

PORTLAND, Ore. —The King is dead, but the burger lives on.

Burger King Corp. on Friday said it is retiring "The King" mascot, a man with an oversized plastic head and creepy smile who in recent years has been shown in ads peeping into people's windows and popping up next to them in bed.

The move is an effort by the struggling fast food chain to boost slumping sales by focusing its marketing on the freshness of its food rather than the funny-factor of its ads. It's rolling out a new campaign today sans The King to tout its fresh ingredients and new products like its California Whopper, which has guacamole.

"We won't be seeing The King for a while," Burger King spokesman BJ Monzon said Friday.

The new focus is a departure for Burger King, which long has targeted its ads to male teens who like to chomp its chargrilled burgers and gulp its milkshakes. The economic downturn has battered its core customer—— young males have been particularly hard hit by unemployment—— and Burger King is looking to boost declining sales by appealing to the mothers, families and others that rivals like McDonald's Corp. have successfully courted.

"I think it's great they are doing something as opposed to just withering away," said Joel Cohen a restaurant marketing consultant. "They are taking an approach that is like not that much different from what McDonald's is doing and growing up."

The new focus comes as Burger King attempts to regain its edge. While competitors have grown by updating their offerings, Burger King largely stuck to its menu of burgers and fries.

McDonald's, for instance, has worked to portray itself as a healthier, hip place to eat, offering wireless access in restaurants, updating decor and introducing smoothies, oatmeal and yogurt parfaits. And Subway has grown quickly by emphasizing fresh, quick and affordable food. Burger King also has faced competition from other burger chains, like Sonic, Carl's Jr. and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

As a result, Burger King, which was once in a neck-and-neck competition with McDonald's, has been eaten up by its rivals.

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