Burger King enhances reputation while causing crisis for competitors

Smart folks at Burger King, at least in terms of enhancing reputation and pressuring competitors into a crisis.

You may have heard the news this week that BK plans — by 2017, according to the fine print — to use free-range hens for eggs and free-roaming sows for bacon and sausage. In a society where animal rights sometimes take precedent over human rights, that’s a winner.

For BK, it’s a rare twofer — get in front as a thought leader and in so doing elevate the sense that the competition is “bad.” It’s a whopper that enhances the third-place fast food giant’s reputation and pressures McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s and others into a mini-crisis.


Burger King uses hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of millions of pounds of pork annually, and its decision could be a game-changing move in the supply business as a huge new market opens up for humanely raised food animals.

This decision is not a slam dunk, however. Can BK actually pull it off? If it does, will anyone care or remember come 2017? Most consumers probably figure BK is all free-range already. [A little side bonus]. Or is this just a marketing ploy, as my colleague Chuck Beeler rightfully asks?

And the biggest question, it seems here, is will this decision drive sales? Surely BK did the requisite focus groups, market research, category polling. But there seems a disconnect between regular consumers of fast food breakfasts and those who care about animal rights. At its core, a great many animal rights folks are vegans, vegetarians and/or not that likely to be Super Size Me aficionados. In fact just the opposite.

This is similar to years of polling on the environment. Yes, Americans say over and over, we want clean air, water, food etc. “OK, would you pay an additional $2,000 for a car if all were required to meet 50 mpg?” Umm, not so fast.

With this move, BK made itself a royal pain to the competition, something it has not done for some time. Kudos on that. It garnered attention that is sure to be shared and promoted via social media. Food bloggers jumped to comment.

But with 4.9 million Facebook followers already, and national TV ads featuring Jay Leno, David Beckham, Steven Tyler and Sofia Vergara, how much will something like this really move the needle?

Still, it’s a fresh entry in the category and caused some late-night angst in Big Mac land.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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