Ayan Banik, vice-president (Planning) at Grey Group, says Burger King
has been known for its guerrilla marketing, which is characterised by its maverick promotional tactics.
In December 2018, it pulled a memorable stunt with a campaign called “Whooper Detour”. It tapped mobile geo-fencing to lure customers away from McDonald’s so that if they were within 600 m of an outlet, they would get a notification offering its signature sandwich, Whooper, for one cent. Once the customer placed an order, she would be directed to the nearest Burger King store.
Five years ago, it floated a print ad in the form of an open letter to McDonald’s that sought to bury the hatchet and proposed to combine the two chains’ favourites, Big Mac and Whooper, and create a new product called McWhopper to Peace Day. McDonald’s wasn’t lovin it, and snubbed the idea.
“It works for a smaller brand, as it requires low marketing spends but grabs eyeballs, and is like a prank that a boy plays on his older brother that is cute and the parents won’t mind,” Banik says.
But with this week’s post on Twitter, he says, Burger King has assumed a leadership stance in a larger bid to revive the category of fast food. To be able to sell a category, you have to be a leader. Or in this case, seen as one. “Burger King hasn’t created any new product. But by becoming the voice of a category, the brand elevated itself.”
According to Banik, a brand can also achieve such perceptual gains where it is viewed as a leader in normal times when there is no crisis to industry. For that, a brand can resort to social commentary.
Back in 2014, for instance, Burger King unveiled its limited edition “Proud Whooper” in support of Pride events. What was different? Only the packaging, which read: “We are all the same inside.”
Sandeep Goyal, brand expert and founder of Mogae Group, says that with its out-of-the-box ideas, including the recent tweet, Burger King has emerged as a more adventurous and honest brand that caters to a constituency of witty, intelligent customers. Only this year, in February, it proudly proclaimed an anti-preservative pledge with the “Moldy Whooper Campaign” that presented the repelling sight of a mould-covered burger. “But despite many such ads, it remains a challenger and McDonald’s still is the leader.”
Burger King, founded in Florida in 1953, is present in 100 countries with 18,000-odd outlets. The 80-year-old McDonald’s, on the other hand, has more than 39,000 restaurants in over 100 countries.
The subtler, innovative messaging and nuanced ads, which Burger King thrives on, work better in the West, according to advertising insiders.
“Sometimes brands take good-natured jibes at each other. But in countries like ours, the level of comprehension is low, so if you have to explain yourself later, then the message is lost,” says Goyal.
With the digital media breaking boundaries, a stance taken on Twitter gains traction among a section of the audience in India. But ads in India have only tended to be occasionally indulging in banter — such as between nutrition and health drink brands Complan and Horlicks. Some have even been viewed as too brazen, and resulted in litigation — like the time when a court ordered Amul to stop airing a TV ad after Kwality Wall’s complained it was misleading.
No one can recall any ad that directly sought to benefit their rivals. But these are exceptional times. And Burger King may just have given Indian advertisers something to chew on.