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Which fast food megabrand has the best marketing: Burger King or McDonald's?

Chances are if you're a member of the marketer's club, you're going to choose Burger King.

After all, Burger King has produced quite a bit of widely talked-about marketing campaigns, thanks in part to its offbeat and sometimes clever agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice Facebook application attracted significant attention from the media and created buzz amongst digital marketers. But that wasn't the first time Burger King has demonstrated its digital and viral savvy; efforts like The Subservient Chicken, Whopper Virgins and HaveItYourWay08.com also got play. The company's latest SpongeBob television ad has been viewed a respectable 500,000 times on YouTube.

If you browse around, lots of people think Burger King is one of the brands that 'gets it'. There's only one problem: the sizzle isn't being backed up by the steak. An article in the latest issue of BusinessWeek details how Burger King's focus on sizzle has not put it in good stead.

While McDonald's was focusing on positioning its food offerings to value-focused consumers hungry for a little bit of recession relief, Burger King stuck with its approach of targeting young males with sexy, quirky ads, several of which have created controversy. Media value, right?

Unfortunately for Burger King, the results aren't worth bragging about: McDonald's has gained while Burger King has floundered. In April, BusinessWeek reports that revenue at McDonald's was up 7% while Burger King's "remained weak in many markets after a dramatic fall in March".

To be fair to Burger King, it had posted sales growth in every quarter since current CEO John Chidsey took over in 2006 so it's not all doom and gloom for the fast food chain. But great companies are great because they adapt when times get tough; they're not great simply because they do well when times are good.

2006 is not 2009 and brands like Burger King need to be nimble in today's business environment if they're going to stay strong. That means recognizing changing consumer values and needs and re-evaluating target markets. By continuing to bet the farm on young males and ignoring the wisdom of selling value at a time when value is what most consumers are looking for, Burger King let its biggest competitor steal the show.

The interesting thing about this, of course, is that Burger King has looked like the brand putting on the better show. It's a good reminder to all of us digital marketers, media pundits, social media experts and armchair critics that the entrée with the most attractive presentation isn't always the tastiest.

Photo credit: kballard via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 May, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2429 more posts from this author

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atul chatterjee

One strategy could be to reduce prices for one or two items. Advertising through social media seems a great idea, since the cost is so low.

over 7 years ago

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James Scott

Of course, McDonald's also seem to have made more of an effort to appear health conscious and green, which are issues on the minds of most people who feel guilty enough about eating fast food in the first place.

The other factor that can't be ignored is that - in the UK at least - McDonald's got here first I believe. They did in my area, and for most people I know, McDonald's is the Coke to Burger King's Pepsi... They are what Hoover is to the vaccuum cleaner.

over 7 years ago

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Houston search engine optimization

I really impressed with this blog, It has great contents of marketing.

over 7 years ago

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Elmer Boutin

Personally, I never liked the current "King" character. I think it does nothing for the brand other than identify with "Burger King." Although I don't think they should copy McDonald's marketing tactics, I think their current efforts are not on target with most consumers. My teenaged boys love the current ads, but they don't have money to spend at BK.

over 7 years ago

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Gregor

It's very similar to trusting the SERPs.  There are plenty of companies with high positions in the SERPs but in fact, many of the companies that are doing the best work in that area don't appear anywhere in the SERPs.  Yet people still seem to think that a #1 rankings means that they must be the best!

over 7 years ago

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Brewster Barclay, Managing Director at Clickstream Technologies PLC

Unfortunately, I see Burger King's problem being all sizzle and very little steak.  i have been comparing McDonald's and BK from a consumers point of view for more years than i care to say.  I am been repeatedly dissapointed with BK's inability to deliver value when you get in to the restaurant.  They have great products but fall down badly in operations, service and value.  No amount of marketing will overcome the reality of delivery in the front line.

over 7 years ago

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Will Hardie

I saw BK's new poster campaign this morning in London -- "Grand Theft Burger -- you'll feel like you robbed us". It ticks both boxes: young/clever/funky, and value/thrift.

Still, some valid points above. That's only one demographic ticked, and the service experience has to stack up.

over 7 years ago

zac craven

zac craven, IT consultant at Zac Craven Ltd

Not sure how much I agree with these comments.

BK is more expensive than McDs right?  So BK needs to have something that McDs doesnt in order to convince customers to pay that little bit more.  So they brand themselves as cool, so that teenagers and students will choose them over "low-rent" McDs as a place to take mates/girlfriend.  If BK try to compete with McDs on price alone of course they have no chance, so as the industry 'challenger' they have to pick winnable battles by focusing on specific customer segments, David and Goliath style.  The conclusion given above is that this strategy is not working, however perhaps if they went for a price war then the situation would be even worse.

over 7 years ago

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Wedding Favor Guide

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over 7 years ago

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almost 7 years ago

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spinn

this blog is really good and easy to read articles

about 4 years ago

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Sumtech

Good article and blog as well

about 4 years ago

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Crushers

good and nice articles in this blog..helpful to all..great

about 4 years ago

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