Burger King Gives Up #2 to Wendy’s…and Who Really Cares?

“Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”

Yogi Berra

Actually for Burger King, it’s the opposite–there are no crowds.   We have a Burger King and a McDonald’s in my neighbourhood that are right beside each other.  When my kids were little, we used to take them to Burger King, just because it was nice and quiet.  That’s not the kind of benefit that will make you a lot of money:  “Come to Burger King and Avoid the Crazy Crowds”.  

Looking at Burger King’s history, we can see it’s been owned by so many companies from Grand Metropolitan to Pillsbury to Diagio and most recently a couple of Private Equity groups who probably think they can turn it around.  They’ve tried every ad agency from BBDO, JWT, Y&R, McCann Erickson and Crispin Porter.  They’ve tried bigger sizes, Whoppers, chicken fries and even Flame Broiled.  I’ve NEVER seen a live flame in a Burger King but I have seen plenty of microwaves.  The current ad strategy is now “Have It Your Way” which is back to the same tag line it used in 1974…when it was just a mediocre knock-off to McDonald’s.  I guess it’s fitting because it’s still just a mediocre knock-off.

Let’s face it:  People “Love” McDonald’s and only “Like” Burger King.  Would you cross the street in the rain to get a Burger King?  Not likely.  Would you defend Burger King in a heated debate about who has the better fries?  No way–Mcdonald’s fries are to die for.  There’s no emotion with Burger King.  It’s a functional choice, you consider it and enjoy it.  But you don’t crave it.  It’s not personal.   And you’re not outspoken about the brand.  It’s ok.  And yet today marks the day Burger King is no longer the #2 hamburger brand as it has now fallen behind Wendy’s in sales.   And I bet that no one really cares.

Calling Wendy’s #2 is really a bit misleading, because really it’s actually now the #4 fast food brand.  Subway is now the clear #2 fast food brand and Starbucks is #3. Wendy’s and Burger King are like two cars in the slow lane with growth rates dwarfed by the three leaders ahead of them.  In terms of burger excitement, the world is filled with high end local choices and Five Guys has replicated the local choice on a mass scale and is now the Fastest Growing burger joint in North America.

Wendy’s and Burger King appear equally confused.  Wendy’s modest growth has come mainly from innovative and differentiated product, such as the Baconator or the Spicy Chicken or their salad options.  All good.  But since the death of Dave Thomas in 2002, it has no clue how to communicate what the Wendy’s brand is all about.    For the past 10 years, Wendy’s advertising has been confusing, meandering and void of any emotion at all.  They really are just a bunch of product ads, with cool ways of slicing tomatoes and lettuce and lots of people sitting in plastic chairs eating burgers.   Here’s Wendy’s history of campaigns over the past decade!  Can you remember one of them?

  • 2002:  Final Dave Thomas campaign
  • 2003:  Product Related Ads
  • 2004:  “Mr Wendy” character
  • 2005:  Square Burgers vs Round
  • 2006:  It’s always Great, Even Late  (Open Late)
  • 2007:  That’s Right campaign
  • 2008:  It’s waaaay better than fast food. It’s Wendy’s
  • 2009:  You Know When It’s Real
  • 2010:  Hot and Juicy
  • 2011:  “Where’s the Beef?”

Wendy’s is stuck in a world of boredom.  As a result:  consumers like the brand, but do not love it.   Wendy’s needs to find a big advertising idea that emotionally connects with consumers and then stand behind that idea for the next 5-10 years.  The challenge I give most brand leaders who are stuck in the world of boredom: “If you don’t love the work you do, then how can you expect your consumer to love your brand”.   

About Graham Robertson:  I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do.   My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  I do executive training of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability.  I’m an adjunct professor at the Cornell-Queen’s Exec MBA.  If you have interest for your team, email me and we can customize a program to your needs.  For Powerpoint versions of Brand Learning presentations, visit Slide Share Learning Presentations


3 thoughts on “Burger King Gives Up #2 to Wendy’s…and Who Really Cares?

  1. Graham,
    As a former Exec who manged Coke’s business throughout Canada with McDonald’s, I forwarded your article onto a few Sr. Execs at McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada as I’m sure they’d enjoy and appreciate your article.

  2. Love your article Graham. Reminded me of the days we escaped the office a quick McDonald’s lunch. Keep up the good work. Nick

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