Let’s Talk About Burgers, Folks
Whenever two of the biggest and most recognizable brands on the planet interact in any way, the world takes notice.In some instances, co-branding can result in terrific products that stick around, such as:
- Apple and Nike developing the Nike+ system
- Betty Crocker and Hershey’s making sure everyone has the ability to bake delectable brownies
- Eddie Bauer and Ford giving us a marginally more comfortable version of the Explorer
However, co-branding doesn’t always end with increased sales and (surely) an endless stream of high fives. It can be difficult to get two sides to agree on a co-branding venture, especially when the two sides are industry titans that have been staunch competitors for a long time.
Such was the case last week when Burger King cooked up a jaw-dropping proposal (complete with full-page ads in major newspapers) in which they suggested a 24-hour truce with McDonald’s and asked them to join in creating an extraordinarily formidable, larger than life, least doctor-recommendable food item our world has ever seen: the McWhopper.
According to the proposal, the two fast food giants would come together on Peace Day and take six parts Big Mac (top bun, all-beef patty, cheese, lettuce, special sauce, middle bun) and six parts Whopper (tomato, onion, ketchup, pickles, flame-grilled patty, bottom bun) to create one of the epic culinary concoctions in the history of wanton dining all while raising awareness and money to benefit Peace One Day.
Specifically, the two restaurants would meet halfway, literally in Atlanta, GA, and set up a pop-up restaurant and serve McWhoppers in the name of peace on September 21st, a global day of ceasefire and non-violence that Peace One Day has been fighting to have institutionalized and recognized across the globe. Every detail of the operation, such as the branding, packaging, signage, even the employee uniforms would be split 50/50 between Burger King and McDonald’s, with 100% of the proceeds going to Peace One Day.
If you are interested in learning more about Peace One Day, give their website a visit and check out all the great work they’re doing.
Needless to say, the proposal caught fire on the Internet and people from all over happily jumped on the McWhopper bandwagon.
There was, however, one major player that was just not lovin’ it.
McDonald’s was not buying any iota of this bright-eyed proposal, as indicated by their response. Their CEO, Steve Easterbrook, took to Facebook to provide an answer to the already-viral proposition, and let’s just say that if you think their French fries are salty, it might be best you stay away from his response:
It’s almost like Burger King hired a skywriter to propose during game 7 of the World Series only for McDonald’s to come back with a text that said “lol no thx.”
The palpable difference in tone and overall effort (seriously, you been to McWhopper.com yet?) tells a tale on its own. Burger King clearly invested some brainpower and money into this thoughtful and visually stunning project, while Steve Easterbrook probably concocted his answer on his way to check the mail, possibly still in his pajamas with coffee in hand. Seriously, the mundane and stuffy nature of his rebuttal had all the fanfare of a parking ticket appeal.
However, while his response might not seem like much, it certainly gave us a great deal to unpack – most notably the fact that he turned down Burger King’s offer. It seemed like an obvious win for both sides, not to mention cholesterol medication providers, that would benefit a great cause and simply get everyone excited for a brief spell. What’s not to love about it?
Steve Easterbrook’s tone, choice of words, and overall curtness leads me to believe that not only was he not on board with the greatest caloric collaboration of our time, but he might have even suspected that Burger King’s intentions were not as pure as their idyllic proposal laid made them out to be.
To better understand this line of thinking, you need to start by asking…
What Was the Goal?
I personally enjoy watching two brands have a public row – it’s entertaining and gives a look at how they handle situations when the special sauce hits the fan. In this viral age, outlets like Twitter have given brands the chance to not only instantly reach a huge audience to promote their products, but also the chance to instantly screw up in front of that same huge audience. Sometimes they even butt heads and, like I said, it is very entertaining.
Exhibit A — Oreo and AMC
Exhibit B — Taco Bell and Old Spice
Why is it that "fire sauce" isn't made with any real fire? Seems like false advertising.— Old Spice (@OldSpice) July 9, 2012
@TacoBell Depends. Do you consider volcanos, tanks and freedom to be spices?— Old Spice (@OldSpice) July 9, 2012
Sure, they’re not always malicious interactions, but it’s still a fun chance to see how brands handle certain situations.
Back to the Burger Wars:
While on the surface we’re seeing one giant company extend a flame-grilled olive branch to a long-time competitor to collaborate in the name of world peace, is it possible that there was some malicious intent behind Burger King’s efforts to join forces?
Some of the more pessimistic beings out there are claiming that Burger King was attempting to leverage the ongoing global issue of civil unrest to expose McDonald’s signature burger, the Big Mac, for being considerably smaller than it’s Burger King equivalent, the Whopper.
While it is impossible to argue that the Whopper holds a decent size advantage over the Big Mac, it is a distant stretch to think that executives at a gigantic company like Burger King would use global strife as a stepping stone to showing off their bigger burger.
In the reply of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, he penned:
“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 passage, in particular, was pretty telling of how he interpreted Burger King’s offer. He is trying to bring the “burger wars” down to a realistic level while also telling Burger King to just calm down. This attempt to take some sort of moral high ground might not have been absolutely necessary, though, as the proposal introduced by Burger King even included the founder of Peace One Day, Jeremy Gilley, explaining how this collaboration could do some serious good and signing off with “We hope you get on board, McDonalds.”
Jeremy Gilley is an individual who has dedicated years of his life to exploring ways to bring about world peace and understand why such conflicts exist. If that guy can see how this whole idea can be beneficial while not belittling the polarizing issues of global unrest and war, surely we can all get on board as well.
A Few Marketing Observations
At this point, you may be thinking, “Say, isn’t this a marketing blog? How is all this high-sodium hullabaloo related to marketing?”
Let’s explore a couple connections:
1. I simply cannot get over the proposal that Burger King put together. From a design standpoint, it was a masterpiece. You don’t have to agree with their message or philosophy to see that they absolutely put together a gem of a presentation that is easy to navigate, to understand and to watch over-and-over again. Kudos to the agencies involved.
2. There is no denying how much publicity this story has gathered. No matter which meat-grilling goliath you find yourself cheering for in this situation, if any, it has generated a massive amount of buzz. It trended on social media. Just about every publication worth its weight in French fry grease was covering the story. Hundreds of comments, retweets, and articles dominated the Internet for a brief time. This publicity, no matter which way it was slanted, put the words “McDonald’s” and “Burger King” in front of the faces of millions of people all over the world. My gut tells me that both brands can expect a decent bump in sales over the next month.
So Where Do they Go from Here?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, this whole interaction went absolutely pandemic – every social media outlet was flooded with users offering up their opinions on the matter. As pretty much every brand out there is on Twitter, we quickly saw others race to the rescue and offer to take up the slack McDonald’s left behind to keep the project alive. These savior brands included:
- Denny’s – Is the Slopper™ the answer? (Please say yes)
- Wayback Burgers – Their 9-patty Triple Triple could definitely shoulder the load.
- Krystal – Mini-Whoppers!
- Giraffas – Chicken and beef, what could go wrong?
It seems as if Burger King has shifted gears after getting stood up at the grill (I’ll stop) by McDonald’s and have since released a new open letter addressed to the 4 newcomers, as well as McDonald’s. This newer plan introduces what they are calling the Peace Day Burger and will combine a “key ingredient from each of our signature sandwiches.”
What eventually comes from all of this will surely be talked about for a long time, thanks to all of the buzz created by the initial proposal and subsequent rejection. The real question is, with just a few weeks left until September 21st, what kind of “meaningful global effort” will McDonald’s cook up?