• Kanhaiya Maheshwary

The battle of Burger brands - A look at Burger King and McDonald's ad wars

Burger King and McDonald's, two iconic burger chains born just one year apart (BK - 1954, McD - 1955), represent one of the greatest American corporate rivalries right after Pepsi and Coke. McDonald's has been the larger of the two in terms of revenue, chains, and overall global presence since a few decades. But it was not always the case. In fact, in the early 60s, McDonald's was the challenger and it is said that it emulated the Big Mac behind Burger King's Whopper. But by the 1970s, shortage of funds hindered Burger King's expansion, whereas McDonald's continued growing to a position where it became the leader, and Burger King the challenger. That's why in the 1970s, Burger King decided to punch above its weight by directly targeting McDonald's in an advertisement. Little did people know that this war would become a perpetual one, with both the brands constantly taking jibes at each other not just in the media, but also in their menus.



From a business and strategic point of view, Burger King has always tried to mirror what McDonald's has done. When McD started focusing on its McCafe and later partnered with Starbucks to create specially compostable cups, Burger King merged with Canadian coffee company Tim Hortons. In 2013, Burger King released a 'Big King' with 2 patties and 3 buns, which was obviously targeted towards McDonald's Big Mac which has the same configuration. Another time, when McD revived its McRib, BK was quick to hit on the counter with a very cheap $1 alternative known as BBQ Rib. And in 2018, Burger King announced a double quarter-pounder, which was a jibe at McD's quarter-pounder.


If we look solely at the revenues, even though McDonald's is seeing a downfall each year since 2014, it still continues to lead not just Burger King, but every other fast food giant by a considerable margin. In 2019, McD reported revenues in excess of $21 billion, whereas Burger King reported revenues of just under $1.8 billion. But revenues aside, Burger King has seriously gotten into the head of its rival many a times, with McD also being compelled to reply. And on that note, let's have a look at 3 Burger War ad campaigns that are for the ages:


The Directional Billboard - 2016

In 2016, Burger King decided to re-enter France after many years. McDonald's must have felt some pressure and therefore decided to remind the French of its 10,000 outlets and how it is always close to them (both in heart and distance). The ad showed a giant directional billboard being erected to display the route to Burger King's outlet 258 kilometers away, whereas the mile marker next to it said McDonald's 5 kilometers. Burger King countered this beautifully by showing someone drive all the way to Burger King because it was worth it! Let's have a look at both these ads:


McDonald's Ad


Burger King's amazing reply



IT movie preview, Germany

During the preview of Stephen King's horror film IT in Germany, Burger King found the perfect opportunity to insert a little film of its own before the end credits, thereby making IT as Burger King's longest commercial ever! It was very nicely done and the audience didn't realize until the very end that it was an ad. And when they did, the theater erupted with laughter.



Which is better, McDonald's or Burger King?

This German ad features a kid trying to enjoy his McDonald's fries but is interrupted by other kids coming and taking it from him. Finally, he puts a fake Burger King label over the fries and is able to enjoy it because apparently no one wants those!


As an advertiser, I have to admit that Burger King has done far better than McDonald's when it comes to competitive advertising. In fact, Burger King's ad campaigns targeting its rival has even won Cannes Lions! However, I feel that Burger King over-does it only because it knows McDonald's is far ahead when it comes to revenues and likewise, McDonald's doesn't feel the need to retaliate every single time. But it would still be worth showing 2 campaigns wherein Burger King absolutely roasted and grilled McDonald's, just like its Whopper.


Burn That Ad


The Whopper Detour



When it comes to following or brand loyalty, you will notice a certain phenomena existing in every field, be it corporate brands or sports teams - the smaller of the two rivals usually has more aggressive loyalists. And same is the case with Burger King. Personally speaking, I will always be a McDonald's fan. I have some special memories associated with the brand which I still hold dear. McDonald's was the first true western food brand to have established its presence in India. As a 9 year old, I remember going to McDonald's every weekend with my family. It was a trip that my brother and I looked forward to the entire week, and if we were lucky, we would sometimes get a Happy Meal (which used to be very costly back in 2000).


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