McDonalds and Burger King have recently been in the news with their tit-for-tat advertising in France, and in many ways the exchanges are a good summary of the history of advertising between the two. Whatever you think of their burgers, or of fast food in general, the story of McDonalds and Burger King communications has frequently been the story of the small guy chasing after (and reacting to) the big guy. Through its history and size, McDonalds often seems to have had the upper hand and the more consistent brand story (although things seem to be changing more recently).
McDonalds has always been a great example of the Idealist archetype (read more about this in Brand esSense where there is a detailed case study), mixing an innocent, happy and friendly (often child-like) persona, from Happy Meals to Ronald McDonald to “I’m loving’ it” to its Disney toy promotions. To its credit, it has been very consistent with this persona through the years, mixing this family-friendly innocence with a dash of the “Everyday person” with value and ubiquity as key brand benefits.
It has also focused a lot on relatively localised messaging, appealing to the regular girl and guy next door (very typical of their advertising in Singapore). This sunny optimism and local feel has been increasingly matched by menu developments that target local tastes and also local cultural landmarks. For example, they make a great deal of effort to create very customised Chinese New Year offerings as well as more Western holidays and even local talking points and news items.
All of this reflects a focused attention on the Idealist and the Everyman archetypes, which are consistently at the heart of McDonalds advertising – the combination of local, every day feel with an optimistic and happy disposition.
By contrast, Burger King have rarely focused on a single archetype and have often varied wildly in the way they portray their personality. They have invoked the Artist, Rebel (Trickster – a very typical up & coming brand strategy) and Warrior (Hero) in recent campaign. Recently, they seem to have focused more on being a Ruler (“In the land of the burger, the Whopper is King”).
Of course, this fits with the brand name – what else would a King be? It also fits with their frequent claims of superiority and better taste. Therefore, the French advertising makes perfect sense, with McDonalds talking about their convenience and availability (ubiquity and ordinariness) and Burger King counter-claiming that they are more “exclusive” (i.e., superior but difficult to find).
In the land of fast food, I know which claim I think might be a better bet for the long-term. However, McDonald’s in the US is fighting off some of the more premium burger chains now, and adapting its offerings to offer products that are more customised and exclusive.
Is this the right strategy? I don’t know, but my instinct tells me that they should stick with their longer-term strategy and accept that they are never going to be (and never wanted to be) a gourmet burger company. Rather, they are they chain for everyone, designed for the whole family, and should just continue to update and improve their menu inline with their values of value and everyday fare.
They are bound to lose some share to premium burger chains, but that’s not the battle they need to fight. Having one the battle against Burger King (the Ruler), why would you then want to make yourself just another Ruler? And will the vast majority of your customers really want to do the same?
Brand esSense by Neil Gains