Burger King spots flame McDonald’s

Standing in line at McDonald's may seem an unlikely source of creative inspiration. But for Susan Gillmeister, it produced a flash of insight that led to one of the past summer's standout TV campaigns....

Standing in line at McDonald’s may seem an unlikely source of creative inspiration. But for Susan Gillmeister, it produced a flash of insight that led to one of the past summer’s standout TV campaigns.

Gillmeister was at a Toronto-area McDonald’s restaurant with her daughter in early June when she observed a confrontation between a female customer and a baffled teenage counter attendant.

The woman could be heard complaining loudly that the fast-food chain’s much-publicized two-for-one meal deal was of no use to her because her husband worked late and she had no one to share it with. Adding to her frustration, the restaurant never offered any deals for her children.

All in all, the woman said, she was heartily sick of hearing about McDonald’s value meals when she got no value from them.

Now, it just so happens that Gillmeister is account director for Burger King Restaurants of Canada with Toronto-based Ammirati Puris. And, having sensed a chink in the usually impervious armour of her client’s number one competitor, she was quick to relate this story to both the agency’s creative team, and to Burger King president George Michel.

Of all the players in the fast-food retail sector, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada has by far the widest array of discount offers – and, thanks to its size and deep pockets, the chain is able to undercut just about any other deal a competitor can muster.

But what occurred to Gillmeister after listening to the woman’s harangue is that there may well be a lot of consumers out there who don’t think much of all these offers. And that’s just the sort of sentiment that Burger King could easily leverage to its advantage.

‘We decided there was something we could do with that – to have fun with the fact that they have all these deals, but you pretty much need a guidebook to work your way through them,’ she says.

Eager to take advantage of the opportunity to run something unusual during the key summer months, Burger King jumped on the idea. The result was the chain’s first-ever television campaign produced exclusively for the Canadian market.

Time was of the essence. In all, it took Ammirati just three weeks to bring the campaign from conception to completion.

The spots, which broke in early July and ran through August, were used to promote Burger King’s Whopper Jr. value meal. The first features a clearly traumatized young man in a red-and-yellow polyester uniform, sitting in a car before the workday begins and repeating over and over to himself: ‘I’m sorry, you have to buy two meals to get that offer.’

The second shows a drive-through attendant in a similarly unflattering uniform, rehearsing for the day ahead by explaining to his reflection in the washroom mirror that certain offers are only good on certain days of the week.

The tagline for the campaign: ‘Break the Rules.’

The ads took direct aim at the perception that McDonald’s has an offer for everyone. But according to Doug Fletcher, marketing manager for Burger King Restaurants of Canada, the campaign was also just a simple variation on the chain’s long-standing ‘Have it your way’ positioning.

‘That was really the message behind the whole campaign,’ he says. ‘There are no rules at Burger King, [so] you can have it your way: Get this great offer and it’s valid any day of the week, any time of the day – unlike some of the other competitors in the business.’

Early results suggest that the strategy worked. While exact figures aren’t available, Fletcher says the campaign helped to generate an immediate swing in sales, and led to improved totals over the previous summer.

‘I think the customer could really relate to it, and to the whole [idea of] confusion about the rules.’

That said, Fletcher is quick to emphasize that Burger King has no plans to adopt a more adversarial stance in the marketplace.

‘We didn’t position this as Burger King against McDonald’s at all,’ he says. ‘We positioned it as our point of differentiation, and we can move with it from there.’

Doug Robinson, chair and creative director at Ammirati Puris, agrees.

‘The objective here was not to go out and ‘get’ McDonald’s, it was to give the consumer a better option,’ he says. ‘McDonald’s is the big guy and we’re taking a subtle – or maybe not-so-subtle – poke at the big guy in a fun way.’

Robinson adds that he’s hoping the success of the ‘Break the Rules’ campaign will lead to more opportunities to produce original Burger King work for the Canadian market. (The chain has, in fact, already enlisted Ammirati to produce another Canada-only spot on a different theme.)

‘It’s obviously in our best interest,’ Robinson says. ‘We’re pushing to try to do more original work up here and…to just really customize to the market needs.’

Burger King is currently doing post-campaign research on ‘Break the Rules,’ to help determine whether more spots in the same vein ought to be produced.

Also in this report:

- It’s a mall world after all: As leisure time diminishes, shoppers are demanding more in the way of services and entertainment from their local mall. And smart owners are starting to give that to them p.25

- The razor’s edge: The Sony Store must walk a fine line between building its business and keeping dealers onside p.26

- Chocolatier takes timeless values to the Web: Rogers’ Chocolates site echoes the simple, elegant look of its bricks-and-mortar locations p.28