Opinion: McWhopper response left McDonald's looking like the 'no fun police'

Andrew Collins, CEO of China digital agency Mailman, explains how Burger King's social strategy was a success, and why McDonald's corporate response was a #McFail

Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins

Like Jon Snow versus the White Walkers, Burger King and McDonald’s and been competing for decades to capture the public’s purse strings, taste buds, and loyalty. The fast food version of Pepsi vs Coca-Cola, the two chains seem to oneup each other at every turn.

McDonald’s release Shakin’ Flavor Fries. Burger King debuts the Chicken Fries.

McDonald’s has the classic McRib. Burger King has its signature Onion Rings.

McDonald’s features the Big Mac. Burger King sports the Whopper.

The fast food war was filled with unimaginatively named, diabetes inducing "Value Meals" and "Dollar Menus" until last week when Burger King called for truce and for the two sides to come together in the name of charity and the people to create The McWhopper, a calorie clogging, Frankensteinian mashup of the two chains’ flagship burgers

This prompted the CEO of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, to come back with a less than cordial "We’ll think about it" followed by a cheeky one liner "P.S. A simple phone call will do next time."

Why a simple phone call won’t do

Let’s be clear on one matter, this conversation is not about fast food burgers and fries, it’s about something with a much greater impact. It’s about how social dynamics have greatly shifted the locus of decision making within companies from the corporate board room to the people's’ Twitter and Facebook feeds.

In no way was Burger King obliged to take the conversation offline and call McDonald’s corporate. McDonald’s indicating such was the case, inherently cutting out the voice, wants, and needs of the people, was a shortsighted and parochial statement made by a company with a corporate structure of a dinosaur and it was met with appropriate backlash by the people.

How McDonald’s should have responded

McDonald’s CEO essentially came out and said, "I’m the CEO, I make the decision"; whereas, Burger King, seemingly in tune with it’s millennial audience, put it out to the public to make the decision. We’re talking about the people, real people, who ultimately drive the business. Burger King wanted to have a public debate and let the influence of the people dictate it, something that other companies, such as Lay’s, have been doing for the past couple years now.

McDonald’s could have come out with a simple tweet and said, "Great idea, we love it. But it’s not our decision, let the people decide #McWhopper."

This would have greatly stimulated social media discussion, and they could have come out of this situation none the worse for wear. Instead, they flaunted their corporate muscle and characteristic lack of innovation that has led them to see rapid declines in sales over the past several quarters.

As stated by the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, "A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies." This was true in the late 90s and it’s even truer today.

This was a prime opportunity for both companies to reinvigorate public interest in a fast food industry that has been slowly fading out of favor with the people. Burger King comes out looking like a sympathetic, innovative figure, resonating extremely well with consumers. McDonald’s comes out looking like the evil stepmother who works for the "no fun police," and in today’s hyperconnected world, that simply won’t cut it. They fell straight on their face, or to put it better:#McFail

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