To mark World Peace Day on September 21st, Burger King decided to wave the white flag at McDonald’s by suggesting that they joined forces in a peaceful launch of “The McWhopper”. McDonald’s were not impressed. So, which of the fast food giants cashed in the publicity benefits from the PR stunt?
Burger King launched their proposal by running two full-page ‘open letter’ ads in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, together with a full website displaying the McWhopper-idea. The hidden agenda of the fast food-royalty was of course to raise publicity for their brand, playing on the old dispute between the two giants.
Working in the PR business, we instantly sniffed at the “Peace Proposal” – That’s an obvious PR stunt if there ever was one! (while nodding our heads in respect of the creative minds at Y&R NZ, who crafted the campaign).
And so, Burger King had McDonald’s cornered: they had to respond fast, and the response had to be razor sharp – after all, Peace is a serious matter.
From our point of view, McDonalds had 3 options:
- To go along with the proposal (which could make them appear weak).
- Not respond at all (which would make them appear arrogant).
- Or decline friendly (with a chance of appearing reserved in the eyes of the public).
We awaited the response with anticipation.
Finally, McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, replied on Facebook:
On the surface a polite and complaisant letter, underlining McDonald’s engagement in the matter of “making a difference” (though not able to resist leaving a small sarcastic comment at the end).
But below the surface it’s a whole other story, for 4 reasons:
1. Suggesting that they do something biggerundermines the glory of Burger King’s cause, because it implies that the McWhopper proposal is foolish and insignificant.
2. Asking if Burger King wants to join them in raising meaningful awareness is also stating that the golden M has the upper hand when it comes to CSR, and that the McWhopper proposal isn’t meaningful.
3. Distancing the companies’ dispute from real pain and suffering implies that Burger King lacks empathy, when they compare their professional competition with actual war.
…and of course
4. Requesting “a simple phone call next time” very passive-aggressively reveals the McWhopper proposal as a PR stunt.
Hah! Stick your fries in THAT, Burger King!
Maybe McDonald’s thought accepting the proposal would put Burger King on the top of the game. Maybe they thought declining it in this manner would shine back negatively on the competitor. Surely then, they must have been surprised by their followers’ responses (these were the highest rated on September 15, 2015):
Moreover, in the last few weeks the McWhopper has generated as many as 28,400 mentions on Twitter alone.
As we know, writing letters while being grumpy is never a good idea, because you will end up coming across as – yes – grumpy. And that will not make you new friends (or leads).
Not judging whether or not McDonald’s should have accepted the peace offering, indeed the brand would have benefitted from responding in a friendlier manner.
The verdict stands: McDonald’s, you lost this one.
Meanwhile, other brands were not shy of getting in touch with Burger King, catching a ride on the publicity wave they created. As a result, on September 2nd the company announced that the McWhopper had been abandoned in favour of the Peace Day Burger, a partnership between Denny’s, Wayback Burgers, Krystal, and of course Burger King.
Holding no grudge, Burger King has left the door open for McDonald’s, should they change their minds.
What we can all learn from the reactions to McDonald’s response is simple: When cornered by your competitor, stay positive. Demeaning your competition to make yourself look bigger is something your customers will see right through – and instead you will be the one looking small.
In addition, the McWhopper incident shows that Public Relations is truly something that brands create for themselves
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