The Burger Wars – How Burger King Almost Beat McDonald’s: The Story Of A Tagline
It seems little more than a fantasy now, but once, about 50 years ago, upstart Burger King almost beat McDonald’s in the Burger Wars.
McDonald’s was the first truly successful hamburger chain/franchise. No one could come close. Whenever Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was ever challenged, he’d focus on, then dispatch his opponent. This story is about upstart Burger King which, if they didn’t make one of the biggest marketing blunders in history, could have, might have, won the Burger Wars.
Let’s go back to the 1970’s.
The Tagline That Roared
Products have used tagline (aka slogans) successfully for over 150 years.
A good tagline, when combined with the company or product name, tells the prospect who you are and what you do. A great tagline will tell - or imply - how you are different and how your customers benefit. A “World-Class” tagline also needs to be memorable to stick in the heads of the readers.
Such a tagline was created in 1973 by top ad agency BBD&O, for Burger King and led to the Burger Wars.
The Tagline And The Burger Wars
“Have It Your Way” At Burger King
A phenomenal line that, in four words tells us two things:
- You can order your burger any way you want, which gives the customer control over their sandwich. (Differentiates Burger King from other franchise burgers – AND gives the benefit of CONTROL to the customer.
- It implies – rightly – that you can’t do that at McDonald’s where all the burgers were made identically.
This tagline propelled Burger King very close to McDonald’s in the burger wars. BK was trending up while Mickey D was trending down.
Then, inexplicably, Burger King abandoned the message that got them there and began a long, slow slide backwards – giving us the biggest burger blunder of all time.
The “Have It Your Way” Burger War Fiasco Put BK in Elite Company
But company they didn’t want to be in.
Burger King ranked right up there with Ford’s calamity, the Edsel. BK reigned as one of the top two marketing mishaps in modern history until 1985, when Chief Marketing Officer, Sergio Zyman, introduced the world to New Coke. (also known as the “Edsel from Atlanta”.) This total miscalculation reminded everyone, marketing execs, copywriters, small business owners, even non-profit organizations, of one unbendable, unbreakable rule.
If it’s working, “Don’t’ (M)uck With It”.
Small Business Need Great Taglines Too
I realize only a small percentage of you are engaged in a ‘Burger Wars’ type of business, but you need a crackerjack tagline as much as, and maybe more than, large corporations.
The reason is simple. You don’t have the widespread name recognition that mega-marketers like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Apple, Walmart, or Proctor & Gamble have…and you don’t have their budgets, either. So, you need a short, memorable tagline that tells people WHAT you do, HOW you’re different, and the BENEFITS that the buyer gets when buying your product or service.
Personally, I’d evaluate your current tagline with these three things in mind, ASAP.
And…If You’re Interested, Here Are Some Good Resources
- There’s a wonderful book, Battling Marketing Myths, by Chris Schoenleb. I’m acquainted with Chris – he was Burger Kings Marketing Director during the Have It Your Way era. You can get his book at Amazon, last I looked it was about $5. Here’s the Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1581410662/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
- For a another aspect of the Burger Wars between BK and McD, check out this 2002 Wall Street Journal article by David Price. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1015463702832029920
- Read my related blog article, Learn The Secrets Of The World’s Best Copywriters
Here’s A Great, Free Head Start For You
Get a jump on your Website, Marketing, Taglines, and Copywriting with my FREE Copywriter's Ultimate Checklist.
And, if you’re interested in even more, please check out my website, "How To Write Copy" at Write Like A Madman University. I know you’ll enjoy the tour.
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