Monthly Archives: August 2015

NEWS FLASH: Burger King Learns About Unintended Consequences

Last week Burger King ambushed McDonald’s with full-page ads in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, suggesting the two chains combine forces with a one-time mash-up burger (the McWhopper), ostensibly to further the cause of World Peace.  McDonald’s CEO adroitly demurred via Facebook, suggesting there may be better ways to save the world.  This was covered by The Armchair MBA recently.

TreeLimb

BK’s goal seemed to be to bootstrap its profile inexpensively by forcing McDonald’s to publicly engage with a smaller competitor.

DennysBurger1

Now Burger King is dealing with smaller competitors trying to do the same thing to it.  Both Denny’s and Wayback Burgers (a 100-unit CT-based chain that features the ‘3 x 3’ —  a 9-patty burger) have reached out to Burger King, suggesting they would be happy to take McDonald’s place.

Wayback3x3

Denny’s took out its own tongue-in-cheek full-page ad in the New York Times, saying in part: “Hey @BurgerKing, We love the idea of a peace burger.  We’re just not sure what to call this thing.  Any ideas?  @DennysDiner

We have never heard of Wayback, and never considered Denny’s for burgers, so this seems like a great opportunistic play on their parts, driving awareness via media momentum initiated by someone else.

As for Burger King, while it hoped to trick the prom queen into a date, it is instead being asked to take its little sister to the movies.

Burger King Resorts to Crown-Foolery

Burger King Resorts to Crown-Foolery

Your faithful servant has been busy so this report is a few days delayed, but still worthy of mention.

As you may have seen, Burger King recently ran full page ads in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, inviting McDonald’s to participate in the creation of a joint burger, the “McWhopper”, to be sold at one location for one day, with proceeds benefiting the organization ‘Peace One Day’ – on September 21 (Peace Day).

McWhopper Promo

The premise, according to the ad, is to “create something special – -something that gets the world talking about Peace Day”.

The old “Challenge the bigger guy and have him publicly acknowledge you” play has been used successfully in the past (Avis’s “We Try Harder” campaign, famously) – with benefits of generating free attention and leveling the playing field by being perceived as an equal.  Importantly, in the case of Avis, ‘Try Harder’ has everything to do with Avis’s point of differentiation.

Avis Try Harder

To anyone, including the most casual observer, this is not at all about world peace – – it’s just a clumsily transparent  attempt to lure a larger competitor into a PR trap. And in the end, with no apparent benefit for Burger King.  There is no link to Burger King’s point of advantage, and no apparent end game that links this activity to future profits.

One can imagine the discussion that precipitated this masterstroke campaign: “Hey – I read selected quotes from Sun Tzu ‘s ‘The Art of War” – – there’s one that says: ‘Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.’ How about we publicly challenge McDonald’s to work with us on the biggest possible initiative: World Peace! (giggle). If they engage, we win – – they treat us as equals. If they shut us down (giggle), they look like a mean-hearted big corporation – – we win! This can only have a great outcome!” (high fives, then go for beers).

Well, like the infamous South Park underpants gnomes, Burger King envisions the first step (PR stunt), the end result (beating McDonald’s), but forgets the important in-between part (how can we translate this stunt to actual marketplace advantage?)

Let’s examine a few things:

  • Burger King is owned by 3G Partners, famous for hacking personnel and drastically cutting budgets – waging an actual media battle with McDonald’s is probably not on the table, leaving PR stunts as one of the few available tools (not counting, of course, improving the actual food)
  • McDonald’s has roughly twice as many outlets as Burger King, so it does not benefit by engaging
  • The amount of money generated by a one-day/one-outlet stunt is vapor compared to the cost of the ads that were taken out to announce it

In the end, McDonald’s quietly announced (via Facebook) that it was not interested, suggesting “a simple phone call will do next time”.

In this case, Burger King has used a derivative notion (World Peace? Really?) totally unconnected to a corporate advantage that might be leveraged (how about getting back to ‘flame broiled’?), and while it has generated some free media coverage, it also exposes itself as a mere prankster.

McDonald’s neither engaged nor totally ignored, it gracefully demurred, suggesting the companies try something that might make a real difference (how about reducing obesity?).

In the end, Burger King faithfully executes Sun Tzu’s strategy, except they neglected to figure out that pesky ‘crush him’ part.  Next time, linking the stunt to something the company actually stands for might be a better move.

Perhaps they mistakenly followed a different Sun Tzu strategy: “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”