If I worked in marketing for McDonalds I think I would love having Burger King as a competitor. Despite comparable products, a flavor advantage with flame broiling, the ability to customize an order more effectively than Mickie D’s and just as well as Wendy’s, somehow they always seem to come up a few fries short of the competition.
In the last year leading up to their sale to a private equity firm this month, Burger King has taken a fall in revenue while #3 Wendy’s and the Golden Arches eked out gains. Marketing gurus often talk of the need to focus and that’s exactly what BK has done by going all in with young males who are the largest consumers of fast food. Unfortunately, while they were dialing up the Creepy King campaign for maximum yuks among their target audience, the rest of the fast food world was stealing their lunch.
Now as they say goodbye to the accountability of being publicly traded firm, BK has found itself painted into a corner with its product line and brand approach. While they are hardly the leader of our nation’s obesity epidemic, catering to hungry young men has led BK to introduce some health-challenging products like the Meat-normous Omelet breakfast sandwich that has far more calories and fat than a Whopper or Big Mac. Their chicken sandwich is a gut buster too, again making the Whopper look like bean sprouts on whole wheat. Burger King does offer healthy salad options, but their marketing has focused on the other end of the spectrum and may have created a kind of cholesterol-laden aura around the brand.
As the paradoxically mute spokesman for BK, The Creepy King has been both entertaining and repellant in his five-year reign. Rarely has a campaign had so many people asking, “what’s up with that guy?” (Though, at least they were asking.) But setting your hair on fire is not the same as being persuasive. The King’s reign is likely to be in jeopardy of a palace coup when the new owners get down to re-visiting the brand.
Have it your way: What would you do with the brand?
Here are some thoughts for the new owners to kick around in their first strategic planning session. (And if you have any others, send me a note.)
Hold the pickles and the Creepy King-The king had his shot. Could he be reconceived? Maybe. But after years of being so good at being regally weird, would a suddenly kid-friendly King really play? I doubt it and suspect that the Creepy King may end up back on eBay where they found him (true story).
Go global-It is widely speculated that growing globally is at the top of the new owners’ list. Burger King already does well overseas and has less brand baggage to carry. (In Australia the brand is marketed under the name Hungry Jack’s, but with identical graphic identity and menu items.) Exporting American pop culture remains a successful formula, but doesn’t require bringing every struggling brand element along for the ride.
Build more dimension into the brand–Burgers are the business, but salads and other healthier choices would broaden the appeal to another key demographic, moms with kids. Although BK offers healthy choices similar to those of other big fast food brands, they have not used them to build the brand’s reach. Subway lucked into a major coup with Jared and his redemptive diet success using their products, but BK already has the menu ammunition to get healthier. They just have to sell it.
Live up to the name-In some ways “burger” is a drawback because it’s limiting, but could Burger King actually take a market position worthy of its name and offer more and better burgers than everyone else? They’ve already proven they can soar over the top with their triple-bypass-inducing monster burgers, but could they market a healthy burger (maybe with a salad) that actually tasted good?
Upgrade the brand experience-I believe that one of Burger King’s greatest weaknesses is the inconsistency of their service from one store to the next, even from one visit to the next at the same location. Service is too often slow, the food isn’t hot and fresh, and the dining areas are dirty or run down. McDonalds and Wendy’s appear to simply out-train and out-manage their employees. If BK’s new owners want to grow in the U.S. they will have to address this issue.
With Wendy’s nipping at their heels for the number two slot and franchisees already on edge over money-losing promotions like the double cheeseburger-for-a-dollar gambit, the self-proclaimed King of Burgers has a lot on its paper-lined tray. Look for the new owners to hedge their bets with a broader appeal, and keep an eye on their controversial mascot. Having spent $3.3 billion for the chance to grow this long-running brand, there is likely to be more for McDonalds and Wendy’s to worry about as the battle for share-of-stomach rolls on.