How Burger King Turned Andy Warhol Eating a Whopper into the Anti-Super Bowl Ad
The nearly silent clip is from a 37-year-old Danish art film.
In the early 1980s, pop artist and enduring icon, Andy Warhol sat down at a desk and ate a burger. That fact would be otherwise unremarkable except that Danish director Jorgen Leth had a camera rolling for what would become his 1982 film 66 Scenes from America, a project that stitched together images of everyday people, objects, and landscapes of American life. As of Sunday evening, more Americans than ever were exposed to this once-obscure piece of film ephemera (as much as anything that lives in perpetuity online can be ephemeral) when Burger King aired the film as an advertisement during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII.
The 45-second ad features a clip of Warhol opening a bag from Burger King, unwrapping his burger, dumping some ketchup onto the wrapper (he’s a dipper, apparently), and enjoying a bite before text on the screen reads "#EATLIKEANDY." (The original segment lasts over four minutes and can be seen on YouTube.) The moment is so iconic that it’s been recreated by Iggy Pop for a music video.
Aside from the serendipitous use of actual Burger King products in the original film (no, this isn’t a computer-enhanced "Fred Astaire dancing with a Dirt Devil" situation), the brand pointed to Warhol’s use of consumer products in his work as well as a quote from the artist that perfectly sums up the mass appeal of products like fast food burger: "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest."
But using a low-fi film clip wasn't just a risky move for a multi-million dollar ad spot meant to break through the clutter of "explosions, slapstick jokes, and celebrities" populating most Super Bowl ads, this was also Burger King's first Super Bowl commercial in 13 years. But Burger King’s head of global marketing Marcelo Pascoa seems to think it was worth the gamble.
“We are always looking for ideas that elevate the Whopper, our most iconic burger. And we are always looking for ideas that can promote the Burger King brand as a relevant part of pop culture in a powerful, legitimate way,” Pascoa told Food & Wine via email. "The Whopper is America’s Favorite Burger and having an icon such as Andy Warhol eating it shows that with confidence. It is also the best kind of endorsement we could hope for because it comes from someone who was not paid by Burger King to endorse the product. Our brand is all about authenticity and there is really nothing more authentic than that."
In fact, it was the mere existence of the film and the mere possibility of licensing the footage that sparked Burger King to advertise during the Super Bowl for the first time in more than a decade. "When the scene of Andy Warhol eating a Whopper was brought to us by David The Agency, we became obsessed with it instantly," Pascoa continued. "And, the more we talked about it, the more we were convinced that airing this scene, from the 1982 documentary 66 Scenes of America, by Jorgen Leth, would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"In order to bring the campaign to life, we reached out to the Andy Warhol Foundation and the family of late film director Jorgen Leth. From the beginning, our approach was to be very respectful of the original content. We wanted to touch it as little as possible to preserve the original intent from both Warhol and Leth," Pascoa explained. "Once they realized that was our intention, the negotiations for usage rights moved fairly smoothly."
In the weeks leading up to the rollout of the commercial, Burger King also encouraged fans to pre-order a Mystery Box via DoorDash, which contained a vintage Burger King paper bag, a white Warhol-style wig, a ketchup bottle, and a coupon for a free Whopper. And the Super Bowl spot isn't the end of the late artist's involvement with the brand. "Eat Like Andy is not a one-shot campaign," Pascoa said. "We will continue to invest behind elevating the iconic nature of the Whopper throughout the year. We will also continue to work on improving the quality and taste of our food and we have several initiatives coming on this front."
Burger King's commercial also wasn’t the only Warhol-inspired moment during the game’s ad breaks: Coca-Cola’s commercial was inspired by Warhol’s "A Coke is a Coke" analogy from the 1975 book, "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol." Oddly enough, this quote about Coke comes from the second half of a passage that begins with the Burger King-supplied Warhol quote about mass consumerism, which, in its original context, continues: "You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke."
Check out more of the best food and beverage commercials from Super Bowl LIII here.