Monday, September 7, 2015

Burger wars won't bring Peace One Day

Burger King earned itself a moment of PR limelight with its recent invitation to McDonald's -- yes, that McDonald's -- to collaborate on a joint sandwich, later this month on Peace Day (Sept. 21).

McDonald's' response? "No, thank you."

McWhopper, as seen on NBC's Today Show. Full segment:
From one perspective, Burger King's armistice in the "burger wars" helped it gain some visibility, albeit at the cost of full-page newspaper ads, a Twitter account (#McWhopper) and a clever-ish website. The strategy borrows a little of McDonalds' luster to portray Burger King as a near-equal.

The reality is different, however. According to QSR magazine, McDonald's is still the reigning champ, with annual sales around $35 billion. Burger King clocks in at No. 5 -- $8.5 billion -- behind Subway, Starbucks, and Wendy's. McDonald's is shuttering restaurants, paring back its menu choices, and experimenting with larger Quarter-Pounders and all-day breakfast in a move to spark tumbling sales.

Is this a PR win? Earning two minutes on NBC's Today Show can't be viewed as a loss. At the same time, students in my Public Relations class at St. Bonaventure University said the campaign -- win or lose -- trivializes the idea of battle. "Burger wars" are fine from a marketing perspective for two mature fast-food brands. But our students reminded me that war -- real war -- means suffering, death, refugees, and much worse.

Burger wars, like cola wars, are a trade magazine's contrivance. One that, from a different perspective, bends our perception of real conflict. And this campaign designed to promote Peace One Day seems way into the weeds.