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When Burger King decided it wanted to take back its status as the second-largest fast-food burger chain, it brought out the big guns, like Sophia Vergara, David Beckham, Jay Leno, and Mary J. Blige. Can Wendy compete?

The celebrity burger buyers seem to be effective. In the first quarter of 2012, Burger King’s North American same-store sales jumped 4.2 percent. In that same period, Wendy’s sales increased less than 1 percent. In April, Burger King’s same-store sales rose 9 percent—nearly tripling the rate enjoyed by the market leader, McDonald’s.

Industry experts say such growth is due to several factors. Last year, Burger King suffered some poor sales in its first quarter, so the gain this year looks even better. In addition, Burger King relied heavily on price cutting promotions and coupons during the first quarter. Along with its roster of A-list celebrities, Burger King introduced a new menu with some healthier items, including smoothies, frappes, salads, and chicken wraps.

But the move has not been all positive. The advertisement featuring Mary J. Blige had to be pulled when the company faced licensing issues. Protests accused the burger chain of exploiting racial stereotypes. The controversies were significant enough that for its advertising campaign in the third quarter, Burger King appears poised to switch advertising agencies. In contrast, Wendy’s has embraced a consistent plan, sticking with an uncontroversial campaign featuring Wendy Thomas for the entire calendar year.

Unfortunately, marketing consultants have criticized both companies: The lack of consistency in Burger King’s marketing causes consumers to question what the company stands for. But Wendy’s ads fail to create any emotional connections for people.

Discussion Question

  1. For fast-food burger chains, what is the best advertising approach?

source: Maureen Morrison, “Is Burger King Poised to Retake Second Place from Wendy’s?” Advertising Age, May 28, 2012.