How Burger King won McDonald’s’ cancer-awareness campaign—and 3 top takeaways for PR

by | Oct 2, 2019 | Public Relations

Avis Car Rental famously proclaimed back in the classic marketing days, “We’re number two. We try harder.” Fast food giant Burger King can make the same claim, and truthfully so since the chain—in its ever-elusive pursuit of top burger dog McDonald’s—has certainly put extra effort into its marketing campaigns of late. BK even launched a brave recent move that actually sent would-be customers right into the red-alert zone—McDonald’s parking lots.

This time, Burger King’s Argentina franchises went a step further and practically petitioned diners to take their burger craving to BK’s number-one nemesis on September 26, in an effort to help McDonald’s with its Children with Cancer fundraising effort. The BK campaign, dubbed A Day Without Whopper, saw the chain actually remove its signature sandwich from the menu that day, encouraging burger lovers to head over to Mickey D’s to help support the cancer initiative—showcasing how it’s possible for even the bitterest of foes to band together for a greater cause.

How Burger King won McDonald’s’ cancer-awareness campaign—and top takeaways for PR

How “moment marketing’ won the day

“This is a king-sized win for Burger King,” Tonic Worldwide managing partner Shourya Ray Chaudhuri told exchange4media. “Instead of latching on to silly trends with little to no brand benefit, ’moment marketing’ exercises such as this go a long way in winning hearts, wallets and smiles. Not to mention the feel-good factor of it all.”

Industry colleagues have been applauding Marcelo Pascoa, the global marketing head of Burger King, for the ingenious effort. “He is one of the bravest marketers on the planet,” one marketing director offered. “At the end of the day, Burger King is getting all the claps and attention, more than McDonald’s,” said another. Even though a few critics commented that it was “kind of a cheeky move,” and a way to “get people to crave Whoppers in a twisted way,” most saw the effort as not only a cutting-edge move, but also as a heartwarming endeavor.

In hindsight, it’s unclear whether the effort actually put a dent in Burger King’s sales that day—by most accounts, annoyed customers reportedly just ordered something else off the BK menu—but the sentiment sure resonated with tons of consumers, as a litany of social media posts around the world illustrates.

Did the campaign serve its marketing purpose?

That’s up to each of us to decide, but there sure are some lessons to be learned. Here are the three biggest takeaways for marketing and communicators from Burger King‘s campaign:

  • Comms’ success is measured by more than dollars. Sure, BK may not have posted any substantial losses that day, but they sure set themselves up to take one for the cause. But the attention brought to the chain—not just in Argentina, but around the world—can be considered nothing but a solid win, and with an emotional touch as the cherry on top.
  • Touched hearts lead to open wallets. As crazy as it may sound in the marketing world, sometimes admitting that some causes are worth more than profits can actually result in fond brand feelings, leading to more engagements, and ultimately more customers—and profits!
  • Even if they flop, cutting-edge campaigns get your brand a lot of eyeballs. Not that this campaign flopped by any measure, but even if BK posted a huge loss for the day, the company’s marketers would probably still say the effort was a success because it got people talking about Burger King for days on end—and when those people start salivating for a burger, who do you imagine they’ll think of first?

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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