In an aggressive media effort that included a microsite and full-page ads in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, Burger King sought to bury the hatchet with its rival for the International Day of Peace, a United Nations-backed celebration.

Under Burger King’s proposal, the competitors would establish a pop-up store in Atlanta, a neutral location situated between the two companies’ headquarters, to sell the aptly-named McWhopper on 21 September.

The PR stunt, which generated significant buzz, has largely been seen as a PR and marketing victory for Burger King. Here’s why…

Burger King tied its challenge to a good cause

The fact that 21 September is the International Day of Peace was probably not known to many before Burger King invited McDonald’s to promote peace with the McWhopper.

By tying its challenge to this United Nations-backed day and proposing that the proceeds be donated to Peace One Day, a non-profit organization that supports the International Day of Peace, Burger King ensured that there was a good-natured rationale behind what would otherwise clearly be little more than a PR stunt.

Burger King created a can’t lose situation for itself

Burger King’s challenge to McDonald’s left the fast food chain with little to lose:

  • If McDonald’s rejected Burger King’s challenge, Burger King would be able to chide its competitor for refusing to be a good sport and doing so around a good cause no less.
  • If McDonald’s accepted Burger King’s challenge, McDonald’s would almost certainly have stolen some of Burger King’s thunder. But Burger King still almost certainly would have come out way ahead because it was the company that conceived of and led the initiative. Put simply, Burger King would have been seen as the leader and McDonald’s as the follower.

McDonald’s didn’t have a lot of time to respond

With 21 September fast approaching, Burger King put McDonald’s in the undesirable position of having to respond (or not) without having much time to formulate a response to its full-frontal assault.

If McDonald’s agreed to team up with Burger King, there would be little time for the companies to negotiate the terms of engagement, likely giving Burger King the ability to drive the initiative and reap the majority of the rewards. 

McDonald’s botched its response

Given its brand marketing savvy, the McDonald’s response to Burger King’s challenge was surprisingly bad.

In a Facebook post containing a message from its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s chided Burger King for equating its “friendly business competition” to the “real pain and suffering of war” and suggested that the two companies work together on a “meaningful global effort.”

One of the most liked Facebook comments poked fun at Easterbrook’s response:

The worst part of the McDonald’s response was that despite the suggestion that Burger King join the company in a “meaningful global effort,” McDonald’s offered no specific suggestions of its own.

The company could have called Burger King’s bluff and countered with a proposal that upped the stakes and put Burger King on the hot seat, but instead of doing this, Easterbrook seemed to be oblivious to the fact that his company was being targeted by a creative PR stunt and walked right into the trap Burger King set.