“McDonald’s Ignores Burger King’s Plea for World Peace!”
Perhaps that was the headline Burger King had secretly hoped for when it proposed Wednesday to co-host a pop-up with (golden) arch-rival McDonald’s on Sept. 21, the date that the United Nations General Assembly set aside as the International Day of Peace.
In full-page ads that ran in the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, Burger King, the perennial also-ran to McDonald’s, called for a one-day “ceasefire on these so-called ‘burger wars.’ ” On that day, the dueling fast-food giants would drop their sauce guns and collaborate on a temporary restaurant in Atlanta, located halfway between each company’s corporate headquarters in Miami (Burger King) and Oak Brook, Ill. (McDonald’s).
The goal? Create a McWhopper sandwich, cobbled together with elements from each chain’s signature burger, and sell it to a dumbfounded public. Proceeds would benefit Peace One Day, filmmaker Jeremy Gilley’s campaign for an “annual day of ceasefire and non-violence.”
McDonald’s shot down the proposal with extreme prejudice.
In a post on the official Facebook page of McDonald’s, new CEO Steve Easterbrook saw right through the public-relations ruse. As the McDonald’s executive pointed out in rejecting the competitor’s pop-up for peace, “We love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference. We commit to raise awareness worldwide, perhaps you’ll join us in a meaningful global effort?”
Then Easterbrook, a British native, did what those in a position of power often do: He lobbed insults.
“And every day,” Easterbrook wrote, his words dripping with British schoolmarm condescension, “let’s acknowledge that between us there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war.”
Easterbrook even added a postscript to underscore the PR-driven hollowness of this peace gesture: “A simple phone call will do next time.”
You can look at this fast-food peace initiative/conflagration from any number of perspectives.
You can view it as McDonald’s does: as an insincere attempt to raise a pummeled competitor’s profile at the expense of the market leader. (I mean, who’d get most of the credit and attention for this “good will” gesture, right down to the Frankenburger itself, which incorporates the Whopper’s full name?). You could also view it from Burger King’s vantage point: as a genuine, perhaps magical, attempt at a corporate allegory. (Two normally cutthroat competitors come together to raise money for peace.) Or perhaps from an alternative Burger King point of view: as a cynical attempt to prove McDonald’s is a cold multinational company with no interest in promoting a peaceful coexistence in any form.
Or you can view it as I do: as one of the most poorly thought-out marketing campaigns since Sony used a freshly slaughtered goat to introduce its God of War II video game in 2007.
What did Burger King expect?
First of all, the proposal apparently came out of the blue, as both brands have bigger problems to deal with, namely how to better compete against fast-casual behemoths such as Chipotle and Panera, whose perceived healthier fare is eating up market share. Now, in other words, is not the time to siphon resources for some cockamamie publicity stunt cooked up by a competitor for its own self-interest.
But as Easterbrook rightly mocks in his Facebook letter, Burger King also made a horrific strategic decision to equate a “burger war” with real war by tying its marketing campaign to a legitimate peace initiative. The effort makes Burger King look callow, as if its high-priced ad and PR agencies couldn’t be bothered to think through the differences between mustard packets and mustard gas. McDonald’s, that wizened old veteran, had to take time away from its busy schedule to scold the idealistic upstart for its naive ways.
Maybe Burger King expected this response from McDonald’s and has a follow-up campaign that will blow us all away? If not, allow me to propose one: Sit down at the negotiating table with some of your true foes: nutritionists and health advocates. Come to terms with them about the poor state of the American diet and your role in it. Then call a news conference and do something similarly outrageous and outwardly focused, like telling the people that fast-food should be an occasional, not daily, indulgence.
That might go a long way toward ending another war, the one against childhood obesity.