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Battle of the burgers: ten times McDonald’s and Burger King waged war through advertising

Written by Louisa Cook on Tuesday, 14 May 2019. Posted in Franchise

From flame-grills to frightful clowns, here’s what happens when two of the biggest fast-food franchises in the world go head-to-head

Battle of the burgers: ten times McDonald’s and Burger King waged war through advertising

McDonald’s and Burger King have become household names since they first opened in 1940 and 1953 respectively. And as they both grew into fast-food franchise giants, their rivalry has deepened. Interestingly, both burger businesses have used the feud to gain publicity.

Check out these incidents where Burger King and McDonald’s took creative jibes against each other through adverting.

(1) Real Meal

Burger King has recently used Mental Health Awareness month as an opportunity to make a dig at McDonald’s. Poking fun at the iconic Happy Meal, Burger King has launched its own version of the children’s meal called Real Meals with the slogan: “No one is happy all the time.” When ordering a Whopper meal, Burger King customers get the option to pick a box that’s best highlight their mood – whether that’s a Pissed Meal, Blue Meal, Salty Meal, IDAF Meal or a YAAAS Meal. Burger King also released a promotional video for the campaign. Only available in the US, the Real Meals are a result of Burger King‘s collaboration with Mental Health America. While the collaboration certainly highlights an important subject and manages to make fun of its archenemies, many criticised Burger King for capitalising on mental health.

(2) McWhopper

Back in 2015, Burger King proposed a collaboration with McDonald’s to create a burger together. The McWhopper would be a burger mashup of McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper and would be sold on World Peace Day in a pop-up shop between a McDonald’s and a Burger King in Atlanta. Proceeds would be donated to Peace One Day, a non-profit group that raises awareness of International Day of Peace.

The proposal was rejected, with McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook making a statement on Facebook: “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? And every day, 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.” He added: “A simple phone call will do next time.” Ouch! At least he liked the intention.

(3) Ronald undercover

It seems even Ronald McDonald can’t resist Burger King, according to a German Burger King ad from 2002. In it a clown that bears a striking resemblance to Ronald visited a Burger King in disguise. Wearing a large hat and coat, the McDonald’s mascot walks up to the counter and is recognised by the server, who says: “Big King as usual?” Ronald then takes his meal and is ready to leave, when the server then adds: “Ronald – see you tomorrow.” Ronald then tucks into his Burger King meal as soon as he’s outside. Using McDonald’s own mascot against its rival is pretty savage.

(4) “Thank you McDonalds”

McDonald’s has attempted to hit back at Burger King over the years. Yet, a 2016 ad backfired pretty badly. The ad shows a couple driving down a country road. They pass a sign saying a Burger King drive-thru is 258km away with complicated directions leading to it and another sign says a McDonald’s drive-thru is conveniently 5km up ahead. The ad then ends with the text: “With more than 1,000 McDrives, McDonald’s is closer to you.”

However, Burger King hit back within three days, tweeting “Hey @McDonaldsFran, looks like you forgot to show the end of your [video.]” An ad was attached, featuring the same couple getting two large coffees at McDonald’s drive-thru to keep them going for their journey to Burger King. The ad says “Thank you McDonald’s for being everywhere.” The couple is then shown at Burger King tucking into their meal while stating that the journey “wasn’t even that long.” Try again, McDonald’s.

(5) McDonald’s masquerade

McDonald’s can successfully ridicule Burger King as shown by one of its German ads. It features a young boy eating McDonald’s regularly at a skate park. Each day, other children steal his meals until he has an idea for him to eat it in peace. One day, he’s shown walking to the skate park with an extra white bag. Once he sits down to eat, the children walk straight past him. A wider shot reveals the boy is hiding his McDonald’s bag behind one from Burger King. The boy then smirks as his plan has worked – no one will be stealing his McDonald’s anymore. Well played McDonald’s. 

(6) #ScaryClownNight

Burger King isn’t afraid of playing on people’s fear of clowns to make fun off its rival. An ad from 2017 is reminiscent of a horror film, with a teenage boy on his bike at night being chased by spooky clowns. One of them bears a striking resemblance to Ronald McDonald. The boy seeks safety in a Burger King, only to find that the clowns have made their way into the establishment. Ronald then appears, and says threateningly: “I want my Whopper.” Then the advert ends. The campaign was known as #ScaryClownNight, where customers were encouraged to come to Burger King in Leicester Square on Halloween while dressed as a clown for a free Whopper. The offer was also available in the US in locations such as Miami, Boston and LA. This is ad was certainly crafty, with Burger King not only mocking McDonald’s mascot, but using it to the company’s advantage.

(7) Never trust a clown

Burger King made a smart move when it managed to score a deal with the highest-grossing horror film of all time: IT. At a German pre-premiere of the film on September 27 2017, Burger King decided to make its mark. Footage of the audience during the showing of IT shows the audience shrieking and wincing at scary moments in the horror flick. Just before the credits rolled at the end of the film, two spotlights shine onto the screen. One says: “never trust a clown.” The second adds: “Burger King.” Evidently, Burger King wanted to reinforce the image that Ronald is a spooky clown. The footage then shows the audience laughing and applauding at Burger King’s advertisement. Judging from the audience’s reaction, the marketing method was a good choice.

(8) Gift of fire

Burger King is very proud of the fact it flame grills its burgers – something McDonald’s doesn’t do. For its 2017 Christmas campaign, Burger King embraced the Christmas spirit and decided to give McDonalds “the gift of fire” – a flame grill so McDonald’s could flame-grill its own burgers. Burger King’s mascot The King, along with his entourage, brought the flame grill to a McDonald’s restaurant. They then released fireworks and sung a carol, much to customers’ and staff confusion. Lines from their song include “since 1954-ho-ho-r, we [flame-grill] everyday” and “just try it yourself, that’s our friendly advice.” We’re not sure if the gift was well received, but there’s no denying that The King put in a lot of effort.

(9) Anything But a Big Mac

When McDonald’s lost its Big Mac trademark in the EU, Burger King decided to rub salt in the wound. In January 2019, the EU voted in favour of Supermac’s, an Irish food chain, who accused McDonald’s of using the name Big Mac to prevent Supermac’s expansion into the rest of Europe. The EU’s ruling allows the term Big Mac to be used by other corporations within the EU. While McDonald’s has since appealed the ruling, Burger King unsurprisingly decided to tease McDonald’s by creating an ad making fun of the whole situation. The Swedish advert shows Burger King customers ordering items with names that insult the Big Mac. Menu items included The Anything But a Big Mac and Kind of Like a Big Mac, But Juicer and Tastier. We hope McDonald’s didn’t have to wait too long at the emergency room to get treatment for that massive burn.

(10) Burger King’s Halloween costume

For Halloween in 2016, one New York Burger King restaurant decided it would dress up as the ghost of McDonald’s. The store and its sign were covered in a white sheet with “McDonald’s” spray painted on it in black letters. Never missing an opportunity to make a dig at McDonald’s lack of flame grills, the sign read: “Just kidding, we still flame-grill our burgers.” When McDonald’s was contacted for a comment on the costume, Terri Hickey, McDonald’s spokeswoman, told Business Insider: “Who wouldn’t want to masquerade as McDonald’s for Halloween when we are serving up treats like McCafe beverages, apple pies and our world famous fries?” At least McDonald’s made the best out of a bad situation by using it as a promo opportunity.

Clearly, just because two companies are huge international power housees, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have fun teasing each other.

About the Author

Louisa Cook

Louisa Cook

As editorial intern, Louisa has joined the Elite team looking to progress her career in publishing and journalism. Apart from being passionate about writing, she is a feminist and a cat lover. 

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