Sometimes when a rival has a great idea, the best plan is to be game and play along. Public image is everything for brands right now, and no matter how fierce your competition is and how much of your focus is on turning your sales around, it’s possible—and maybe even necessary—to put away that competition for a short time in the name of some lighthearted cross-promotional fun. This is a lesson that McDonald's may be learning after the events of the past few days—events that others can learn from as well.
Last week, Burger King went full force with a video, website, and full-page ads in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune proposing a one-day “Burger Wars ceasefire” plan to raise awareness for the upcoming United Nations International Day of Peace. The plan involved a one-day pop-up shop in Atlanta—the halfway point between McDonald’s Chicago headquarters and BK’s own HQ in Miami—where staff from both institutions would serve “McWhoppers” using an equal amount of ingredients from the Big Mac and the Whopper, with proceeds benefiting non-profit organization Peace One Day. With packaging and uniform concepts already designed, all McDonald’s had to do was sign off and show up.
A proposal that large and public put McDonald’s in a somewhat difficult position from the outset. As Forbes contributor Will Burns pointed out last week, there was no option that allowed McDonald’s to come out looking better than Burger King—agree and you’re criticized as a follower, but decline and you’re branded a wet blanket at best. At worst, McDonald’s haters are given plenty of ammunition to call McDonald’s peace-hating warmongers. That’s not a good look for anyone.
But such a proposal can't simply be ignored either, and of those two choices, opting to play along seemed to most to be a clear winner. Unfortunately, McDonald’s went the killjoy route and put a stop to the proposal almost as soon as it was offered. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook posted to Facebook an ultra-serious dismissal that seemed to criticize the idea as frivolous while at the same time calling Burger King out for going overboard:
It’s understandable for McDonald’s to bristle at the thought that this is as much a publicity stunt for Burger King as anything else. But it was an ingeniously savvy one, one that understood what consumers are looking for right now—lighthearted marketing, smart CSR campaigns, and a social media-worthy dining experience—and recognized the impact that the brief partnership could have. On the frivolous end, it could have been an undeniably fun pop-up with no strings attached that would get consumers talking. On the more serious side, if McDonald’s and Burger King could lay down their differences and make peace for a day, why can’t everyone?
But as it turns out, Burger King didn’t have to be disappointed for long: a lot of other brands saw a golden opportunity in the opening that McDonald’s left behind. On Monday Denny’s posted full-page ads of its own in USA TODAY and the New York Times, picking up on the fun mood of Burger King’s original ad and suggesting that the two join forces instead to create a Whopper-Grand Slam hybrid:
On a more regional scale, slider burger chain and Atlanta native Krystal took to social media as well to propose a partnership built on Southern hospitality and tiny square slider versions of a Whopper:
Brazil-based chain Giraffas suggested a combination of the Whopper and its own Brutus Burger:
Meanwhile U.S. regional brand Wayback Burgers came forth with an offer of a Triple Triple-Whopper combo (Whiple Whiple perhaps?) to raise money for UNICEF on Peace Day:
Burger King didn't take long to respond to these offers. On Tuesday the burger chain announced that they’re going need a bigger table to make room for all of the partnerships now underway—and it’s still leaving room at that table for McDonald’s should they decide to come around after all:
All of this proves further the ingenious nature of Burger King’s proposal: even with its original intentions falling through, something great is building out of all of this attention and increasing momentum. At this point is it too late for McDonald’s to participate? It’s possible that they could send a begrudging image and do even more harm than good, just one of several participants. But it could also be a saving move, show that they are good sports and willing to get in board for a good cause. It will be interesting to see if they reverse their position. But even if they don’t, it’s shaping up to be an inspiring International Day of Peace after all.