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Burger King's Challenge: Was It Good Marketing?

Derek A. Lackey,  August 29, 2015

In recent full-page newspaper ads, Burger King called for a truce with McDonald's so that the rivals can create a mashup of their most famous burgers, the Big Mac and the Whopper. Burger King tied the publicity stunt to a non-profit called Peace One Day.

This is a brilliant attack on the leader. Burger King is about 1/6 the size of McDonald's, so they had nothing to lose and everything to gain with this strategy. If McDonald's declines, they look like poor sports who don't care about world peace. If they accept the Burger King brand gets escalated to McDonald's "status" in the fast food kingdom. Burger King's challenge was akin to the Trojan Horse - designed to catch their opponent off guard, which this marketer thinks they did - in spades.

McDonald's MUST decline. Their challenge is how to use this opportunity to further the market leading position of the Big Mac, without "offending" their customers. How do they make sure that Burger King's PR stunt "blows up in their face", showing clearly why McDonald's is the leader in this sector.

In my opinion McDonald's failed miserably. Some of my fellow marketers disagree.

The Star quoted (McDonald's response was) "both diplomatic and shrewd". McDonald's response was "arrogant" according to Inc Magazine and "pious" as stated by The Verge. Understanding that perception is reality in the marketing world, who won and who lost in this promotional skirmish?

Without a doubt, the opening is spot on. First they acknowledged the intent and took the high ground when they said " Inspiration for a good cause... great idea."

The next comment "politely" declined their challenge: "We love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference." In fact McDonald's may arguable have put themselves and Burger King on the same level in this comment. Or at least implied it.

The comment "We commit to raise awareness worldwide, perhaps you’ll join us in a meaningful global effort?" is a subtle attack one of Burger King's known weaknesses within the trade - not all of their franchise owners worldwide are buying into the Burger King way. Insiders will know that McDonald's is inviting them to play a game they cannot win - in fact Burger King could not likely pull off a "global effort". The consumer would be oblivious to this nuance.

"And every day, let's acknowledge that between us there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war." This will very likely be considered as very condescending and pompous and even McDonald's loyal fans probably winced when they read this.

"We’ll be in touch." Beautiful. McDonald's accepted the challenge - Burger King got McDonald's attention and we are now expecting an appropriate response.

Here's where the most damage was done: "P.S. A simple phone call will do next time." Once again, even the most loyal McDonald's fans would have to admit the arrogance in this comment. Even a "Give me a call and we can discuss this. Maybe we can invite all the other players in the global market to join us" would have slapped Burger King into their place and position McDonald's on top of the heap, but most readers will likely think " that was arrogant". Most people will be left thinking McDonald's is the big arrogant "Goliath" to Burger King's "David".

Is this a crack in the dyke of McDonald's market dominance? Was this the response of a confident market leader?

What could McDonald's have said? There are many potential responses and I am sure McDonald's best team players were summoned. In my own arrogance as a strategic marketer I will take a shot at it, after all it is more important to understand what the reader is thinking and feeling than what is actually happening inside the organization:

Dear Burger King

We agree, world peace is a cause worth committing to.

While we respect the intent of your "McWhopper" proposal, we know our billions of fans around the world would be less than happy if we messed with their beloved Big Mac.

Perhaps we could issue a one-day challenge to all who sell burgers to donate the value of all burgers sold that day to world peace, you know, a Burger For Peace promotion, allowing people in every country to buy their favorite burger AND make a difference at the same time. While we are not sure yet what the idea is, we would welcome your call.

Regards
Steve, McDonald's CEO

A deeper look: "We agree, world peace is a cause worth committing to. " Let's get that out of the way up front. We all want world peace.

"While we respect the intent of your "McWhopper" proposal, we know our billions of fans around the world would be less than happy if we messed with their beloved Big Mac. " In this statement McDonald's speaks to their size and dominance without being arrogant. They also "brag" about how much people love their Big Macs and imply that the blowback of changing it would be huge.

"Perhaps we could issue a one-day challenge to all who sell burgers to donate the value of all burgers sold that day to world peace, you know, a Burger For Peace promotion, allowing people in every country to buy their favorite burger AND make a difference at the same time. While we are not sure yet what the idea is, we would welcome your call." This makes Burger King's idea look like it was not thought through very well. Anybody can come up with "hair-brained schemes" (or obvious PR pranks) but let's really hunker down and create something that will make a difference worldwide. Once again the implication is "play bigger Burger King, like we do".

Inviting them to call is a back-slap for their tactics of running full page newspaper ads without saying it and makes it appear that McDonald's is open to collaboration if it makes a "dent in the Universe" to steal a phrase from Steve Jobs.

This communication has a better chance of making Burger King look bad for their tactics, while McDonald's comes out looking like the leader they are.

I welcome your thoughts.



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