PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Spongebob heists yield Whopper of an offer

First he was a cartoon. Then, a movie. Last month he was the unparalleled hit of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now he's MIA.

First he was a cartoon. Then, a movie. Last month he was the unparalleled hit of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now he's MIA.

But if you find him, you can eat free fast food for a year. No wonder the kids are crazy about Spongebob! It all started last month, when Burger Kings across the US began mounting giant, inflatable, apparently irresistible Spongebob Squarepants figures on their roof as part of a film tie-in. No sooner did the Absorbent One begin appearing before he began disappearing, often in the middle of the night, and occasionally re-appearing on eBay. Before long, more than a dozen Spongebobs in more than 10 states were reported missing. And it seemed as though all their abductors managed to make the local evening news, more often than not being hailed as regional celebrities for their derring-do. All of which put Burger King in a tight spot, PR-wise. After all, the perps - almost exclusively teenagers - were hardly committing high crimes (unless you count their likely state of mind during the abduction), so prosecuting them harshly just would not do. Still, the restaurants wanted the Spongebobs back almost as badly as the kids wanted to steal them. So in keeping with the story's playful feel, Burger King last week announced a reward program: Free Whoppers for a year to anyone offering information that leads to the safe return of a Spongebob (not, it's worth noting, the arrest of a kidnapper). The reward got some press, though not nearly as much as the abductions. But we wonder: Spongebobs now go for close to $500 on eBay. Whoppers hover around $5. So unless you plan to eat a Whopper every 3.65 days...
  • Douglas Quenqua writes PR Play of the Week. He is PRWeek's news editor. Ratings: 1. Clueless 2. Ill-advised 3. On the right track 4. Savvy 5. Ingenious

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