William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925), founder of Unilever and later the first Viscount Leverhulme, once said (allegedly) , “I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. My only problem is that I don’t know which half.” The remark was also attributed to a number of other businessmen, and is widely considered to have never been uttered.
Whatever the truth of the matter, advertising is now a huge industry, prevalent in everyday life. We are all constantly bombarded by adverts for everything from new teeth to milk shakes. I can’t honestly say that seeing an advert makes me want to rush out and partake in the cult of that product, but who knows, it quite likely might have some subliminal effect.
One class of advert that we have all seen, and still do regularly, comes from the burger companies. In the UK we only really have two major players, and the rest tend to be small businesses that don’t have major advertising budgets. Across the pond, there are a number of major chains with restaurants in the hundreds, so there is a much wider range of adverts to look at.
The biggest chain is obviously the home of the golden arches. Being the top of the tree probably gives McDonalds a different perspective on what they need to advertise. Everyone else is throwing pot shots at McD’s but they aren’t trying to topple anyone else. As a result, much of their advertising has been, well, bland. It emphasis how good the food is, or how cheap the food is, and that’s about it. Probably the right thing when you are trying to sell good food cheap, but not exactly edgy or giving us the wow factor.
I tried googling ‘Edgy McDonalds Ads’ and come up with the ad below, visually more exciting, but not what I would call edgy burger advertising.
The perennial number two chain around the world, Burger King has spent much of its advertising dollars trolling McDonalds. It has positioned itself as the cheeky younger brother to the number one chain, and this shows in its adverts. Few of the King’s adverts have really been about the food, they have always had an edgier tone, generally poking fun, occasionally skirting controversy, sometimes even classy.
Burger King spent nearly a year trolling McDonalds without anyone actually realising. Until at the end they released images of their ads taken from a different angle. What this revealed, was that all of the year’s adverts for their whopper, had actually also contained an image of a Big Mac. Only because of the Macs smaller size, you couldn’t actually see it as it was positioned behind the whopper.
McDonalds in a rare display of edginess responded with an ad of their own exclaiming ‘Behind every good burger is a great burger’.
One which polarised opinion was the mouldy whopper ad. Much had been written about the abnormally long life of some McDonalds products, with it being claimed they were so full of preservatives that they don’t actually decay. BK produced a series of ads showing that over time their burgers turned mouldy. Although not mentioning their rivals by name, the inference was obvious, BK’s stuff was naturally free from additives.
Based in the German market, BK announced a range of really weird burgers for mother’s day, these were to satisfy the cravings of pregnant ladies.
With this one BK decided to take a leaf out of Carl Jr’s book and use sex to sell burgers. Or rather suggestiveness. Not sure if you would get away with this one in the current climate!
A brilliant piece of work, this promised you a Whopper for 1 cent, but only if you droe to a McDonalds, then used the app whilst you were in the restaurant to order a Whopper for collection from the nearest BK.
Always up with current affairs, this one was in the middle of the Covid crisis.
One of their classier ads, this one was asking you to order from their rivals. During lockdown, everyone was struggling, and their take on it was ordering from a fast food joint, any joint, would be helping people who needed the money.
The last one pokes fun at their flame grilling of burgers. For the record we all feel here that BK burgers do taste better than their rivals, whether it is down to being flame grilled, who knows.
Carl’s Jr. and Sexy Burger Advertising
In 1941 Carl Karcher and his wife Margaret, borrowed $311 against their Plymouth car, and added $15 in savings to buy a hot dog stand. By 1945 they had opened their first drive in, called Carl’s Drive In Barbecue. 1956 saw their first Carl’s Jr. opening, so called because it was a smaller version of their main drive in.
Carl’s Jr. started with pretty much the same adverts as other chains. Images of juicy looking burgers and prices.
Then in 2005 came a new direction. They decided that sex sells. Or More precisely, scantily clad women writhing and moaning whilst eating burgers sells.
Their first ‘slutburger’ ad as it was infamously christened, saw Paris Hilton, a fancy car, soap and water and a burger.
This was followed by a steady stream of sports illustrated alumni, models and singers. All stunningly attractive, all scantily clad and all eating burgers.
Predictably the ad caused offence. With one commentator claiming it had ‘set back feminism four decades’. On the other hand the ‘All Natural’ ad featuring Charlotte McKinney has garnered some 4.5 BILLION media impressions worldwide, so they are effective.
I must admit the all natural one was bloody weird, the ad boasted that the burger was a “first ever fast food” item made with “no antibiotics, no added hormones, and no steroids.” I mean WTAF, are they doing in a burger in the first place.
Otley Burger Company
I wasn’t really expecting tiny little independant companies to appear in this list. But it seems that the Otley Burger Company of Leeds, takes provocation to new levels. Or more accurately sheer bad taste. They leverage social media to promote their business. A good move for small businesses as it can be leveraged to create massive benefit at little cost.
Their Mother’s day advert however, used shock value that took bad taste to a new level. Advert below!
A&W just happen to be the oldest restaurant chain in America. Founded in 1919 by Roy W. Allen as a roadside drinks stand in Rodi California, they have grown to some 900 stores.
Their single entry into our advertising hall of fame, is the launch of their bigger 1/3 pound burger, playing on the theme of bigger is better. Unfortunately it failed in spectacular fashion. Why? Well evidently your average American doesn’t do fractional maths very well. And by God anyone knows that 4 is bigger than 3 so a 1/4 pounder has to be bigger than a 1/3 pounder don’t it.
A&W are intending making a comeback with a new ad for a 3/9 of a pounder, in the hope that Americans take 9 as bigger than 4.
A relatively modern addition, Grill’d was formed in Australia in 2004 in Melbourne. Growing to some 150 stores, the company aired an add that caused outrage. It was meant to troll McDonalds, by having a creepy clown character. unfortunately having said clown chase two kids down a dark alley then appear to flash them, isn’t really acceptable advertising nowadays. In fact it wasn’t really acceptable advertising in any day.
Wendy’s Where’s The Beef
Founded in 1969 in Ohio, Wendy’s is the third biggest burger chain in the world.
Like most chains Wendy’s has the biggest, bestest, juiciest blah blah blah. Their adverts are pretty cookie cutter with everybody else’s. Except for one classic. The ‘Where’s the beef?’ advert aired in 1984, with the unknown actress Claire Peller, an elderly lady sat with two other friends looking at a tiny beef pattie in a big bun and questioning how much beef there is. This ad skyrocketed Wendy’s profits and became a classic line.