Digital marketing strategy wins: Burger King vs McDonald's

Digital marketing strategy wins: Burger King vs McDonald's
Oct 22

Eamon Allan

Burger King has always been in the shadow of McDonald’s, but through some clever social media tactics, it became a fierce rival. In the intensely competitive fast-food industry, Burger King worked to create a powerful brand that keeps the fast-food behemoth on its toes. It just goes to show what you can do with innovative technology and some good ideas.

Burger King currently has more than 15 000 stores globally. In contrast, McDonald’s, founded in 1967 (making it seven years older), has over 36 000 stores worldwide. These consist of approximately 90% franchisees that contribute to a massive marketing budget, which makes Burger King's recent successes on a comparatively small budget all the more impressive.

The Burger King/ McDonald’s rivalry

McDonald’s practically invented the modern fast food and corporate marketing model. They took a franchisee’s invention, the Big Mac, and turned it into a menu staple. As the McDonald’s chain expanded, its advertising budget also increased from $5 million to $15 million in 1967. By 1969 it was $600 billion. Meanwhile, Burger King established its brand identity more or less to compete with the fast food giant.

How it progressed

While Mcdonald’s started its highly successful “I’m lovin’ it” campaign in the early naughties, Burger King started with a decade of subversive campaigns.

  • The Subservient Chicken was a promotion for Burger King’s TenderCrisp chicken sandwich, part of their “Have it Your Way” campaign. It featured television commercials where a man sits in his living room and instructs someone in a chicken suit to perform various tasks. It also had an online element where visitors to the Subservient Chicken webpage could ask the would-be chicken to carry out actions. The website became a viral hit and attracted almost 400 million hits within a year.
  • The Whopper Sacrifice Facebook app was developed as a Burger King promotion. Users who had unfriended ten people on Facebook would be rewarded with a Whopper. The fact that 234 0000 people were defriended on Facebook in this promotion is a testament to its success. And the savage nature of the stunt ensured that people were sure to be talking about it.

More recent campaigns

During the recession, Burger King was affected because their main demographic of young males were hard hit. Wendy’s overtook it as the No.2 burger chain by US sales volume in 2012, but Burger King once again used some clever campaigns to help it bounce back in the years that followed.

  • Hackvertising and competitive sparring are key campaign elements for Burger King’s digital marketing strategy. The Whopper Detour stunt in 2018 relied on mobile geofencing to steer customers away from McDonald's. It was so successful that it resulted in 1 million app downloads within a few days of its launch and 1.5 million downloads overall. Part of the idea's brilliance was that it spoke to Millennial and Gen Z consumer tastes, calling for them to interact with physical and digital spaces. These consumers were wary of traditional marketing strategies, including static print or TV spots, and were delighted to engage with a brand digitally.
  • In their Moldy Whopper campaign in 2020, Burger King made a statement about removing artificial preservatives, colours and flavours from their products. Ads showed their signature item covered in mould, clearly a swipe at McDonald’s products and their alleged unnatural lifespans. While this campaign won at advertising awards shows, unfortunately, the advent of the pandemic adversely affected its success.

We love a clever digital marketing strategy, so we’ll be keeping our eye on these fast food rivals in future. And if you would like to develop a strategy of your own to ensure you are in the best position in a competitive business environment, find out more about what we do.

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