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.