The restaurant marketing wars in 2015 had one brief, shining moment when many of the big players chose to lay down their cudgels in order to give peace a chance — at least for one day.
Burger King’s proposal of a #PeaceDayBurger in an advertising ceasefire on Sept. 21 was spurned by McDonald’s, but five other restaurant chains created a kumbaya moment to promote the Peace One Day coalition.
While the advertising armistice was fleeting, the marketing landscape saw other incidents and campaigns of note.
1. Burger King Peace Day
Burger King Corp. proposed to McDonald’s Corp. and other burger purveyors that they band together for one day to create the Peace Day Burger. While McDonald’s stayed mum on the plan, Burger King’s Whopper joined with parts of Denny’s Bacon Slamburger, Wayback Burgers' Wayback Classic, Krystal’s Cheese Krystal and Giraffas Brazilian Grill’s Brutus burger for peace and harmony.
“We were overwhelmed by the goodwill of our fellow restaurateurs, and believe that working with them to create this once-in-a-lifetime burger is a beautiful twist of fate,” said Fernando Machado, Burger King senior vice president for global brand management. An Atlanta event on Sept. 21, which honored the Peace One Day coalition, gave away 1,500 of the hybrid sandwiches under the tagline: “Five Brands. One Burger.”
Arby's, McDonald's highlights
2. Arby’s Vegetarian Support Hotline
Atlanta-based Arby’s, which in 2014 introduced the tagline “We Have the Meats,” made the calculated decision with the June introduction of its Brown Sugar Bacon sandwich to troll the vegetarian class by setting up a Vegetarian Support Hotline, which was still working in December.
In an open letter with the salutation “Dear Vegetarians,” Arby’s said: “We respect you. We respect your life decisions. With that in mind, we want it to be abundantly clear that this letter is not meant to sway or convert you. We're sharing this to offer our support. … It is understandable that you disapprove of our meat-bravado. Your voices have been heard. Letters, emails, voicemails, Tweets and Facebook comments — we hear you. We love our meats, but realize they're not for everyone.”
Arby’s atoned for its temptations by urging non-meat-eaters to call 1-855-MEAT-HLP when “your nose betrays you and alerts the rest of your senses to find and devour this sweet meat.” The electronic responses offer alternatives like lettuce.
Coming a year after the Pharrell Williams’ Grammy hat tweet, these are Arby’s advertising salad days.
3. McDonald’s “obscene” Minions
McDonald’s Corp. had to issue a statement in July that the caveman Minion, which was starring in its own prequel movie to “Despicable Me” and being given as a prize in Happy Meals, was not cursing, despite social media postings that deemed the yellow, pill-shaped persona’s language as obscene. YouTube poster Paul B noted: “Though Minions speak a language all their own, this little caveman Minion spoke something that just didn't seem quite right.”
The video, as of early December, had been viewed more than 6.3 million times. The company, in suitable-for-print press release language, proclaimed: ‘‘Our goal at McDonald’s is to serve up food and fun for our valued customers, and we’re glad to have the Minions on board.’’
The qualified outrage added intrigue to the Happy Meal sales, as customers sought to see if the language was salty.
Starbucks, Carl's Jr. stir controversy
4. Starbucks Christmas cup
Starbucks Corp. poured a piping hot cup of unanticipated controversy in November when it revealed its annual red holiday cup with nary a snowflake or snowman in sight.
The plain cup drew the “War on Christmas” outrage of an Arizona evangelist, and even comments from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who suggested a boycott.
The company devoted a page on its website to explaining the “two-toned ombré design.” The holiday cup had been a fixture at Starbucks since 1997.
“This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories,” Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks vice president of design and content, said.
Almost as if it had anticipated the uproar, Dunkin’ Donuts revealed its holiday cup later in the month, printed with the word “Joy.”
5. Carl’s Jr. raises eyebrows, naturally
Carl’s Jr., owned by Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE Restaurant Holdings Inc., raised eyebrows with its “All-Natural” television ads starring Guess model Charlotte McKinney, which debuted in the western half of nation during the Super Bowl broadcast in February.
Using a gimmick honed in the Austin Powers movies, the ads showed McKinney walking seemingly nude, or “au naturel,” through a farmer’s market, with various fruits and vegetables obscuring her lady bits, while she touted the Carl’s Jr. all-natural beef burger.
“Carl’s Jr. has long been famous for not only developing innovative burgers and other menu items that are new to fast food, but for advertising them in a way that our target audience of ‘Young Hungry Guys’ can’t seem to get enough of,” said Brad Haley, Carl’s Jr. chief marketing officer.
In less than two weeks, the commercial for the All-Natural Burger had generated nearly 2.5 billion media impressions and 9.5 million YouTube views, the company said. In late July, CKE expanded the grass-fed, free-range beef burger to sister chain Hardee’s, and expanded the line at Carl’s to include a mushroom and Swiss version. Sales, like onscreen costumes, seemed to be taking off.