Battle of the brands: McDonalds vs Burger King

McDonalds and Burger King are two of the biggest fast food giants out there. The long-fought debate as to which brand wins out is spoken about with real passion the world over. The aptly named ‘Burger Wars’, a McDonalds vs Burger King documentary that delves into the famous rivalry even aired on Channel 5 recently.

Whichever you swear allegiance to there is no denying that both McDonald’s and Burger King employ excellent marketing strategies to stay top of mind in consumers thoughts. With both brands making it into the top 10 Most Effective Brands of 2020 it is a close call.

Both McDonalds and Burger King have faced marketing challenges in recent years. With the rise of health-conscious consumers to the current global pandemic, these brands have needed to adapt faster than ever to communicate the right message at the right time. 

In this battle of the brands we take a look at some of McDonalds and Burger King’s recent and more memorable activity.

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Burger King

The Moldy Whopper 

Burger King’s “The Moldy Whopper”

Burger King’s global Moldy Whopper campaign definitely made an impact when it was released earlier this year. The 34-day time lapse shows a picture-perfect whopper become a ghoulish, moldy version of its former self. It was designed to highlight Burger King’s departure from using artificial preservatives, but it has divided opinion amongst marketeers. Although the underlying message is clear – it is a leap of faith to think that such imagery would encourage consumers to purchase. Analysis of the campaign’s results suggest that despite the campaign resulting in 8.4 billion organic media impressions this did not translate into strong positive purchasing intent. Arguably though the aim of this campaign had a longer view, to assert Burger King’s commitment to real food in the eyes of an increasingly health conscious consumer. Or, as Burger Kings CMO put it “We want to change fast-food for good”.

Whether you love it or hate it, the moldy whopper is a clear example of Burger King’s commitment to bold, creative advertising tactics and placing value in longer term strategies.

QR code Whopper

Burger King QR code Whooper campaign
Burger King

In April this year as most of us settled into endless hours at home during lockdown and extreme boredom kicked in, Burger King released its QR Whopper Giveaway campaign. The ad was released on TV and shows a whopper behind a scannable floating QR code. By scanning the code users were given coupons entitling them to a free Whopper when purchasing through the Burger King app. 

This mixture of gamification and playing on the current mindset of consumers was aimed at boosting adoption of their delivery app. With most restaurants closed this was one of the brands only routes to sales. It is a great example of how media, technology and a strong understanding of your consumer mindset can work together.

2 metre crowns

As businesses and restaurants begin to re-open, all have had to grapple with the challenge of operating under social distancing measures. Burger King’s take on this was recently to launch their new giveaway headgear: social distancing crowns

2m paper crowns from Burger King to carry out social distancing measures

This tongue in cheek approach to the new measures is the right amount of silliness we all needed and will no doubt lead to a wealth of earned coverage as customers rush to get their snaps in the oversized cardboard crowns.


We miss you too 

In March of this year as lock down set in across the country we began to reminisce on what we missed most about normal life. Consumption of digital media soaredsearch trends changed and with dinner becoming the main event of the day for many, we all started to hanker after our favourite fast-food. Numerous tweets and posts emerged about how much people were missing their McDonalds favourites. In early April, McDonalds weighed in with a simple ‘We miss you too’ on social media, aimed at connecting with its audiences and driving engagement.

McDonald's digital marketing throughout lockdown showing 'We miss you too' to customers

This would not have been unprompted but a result of using social listening to monitor sentiment and mentions at the time. It has been difficult for brands to connect with consumers throughout this period, the risks of misguided messaging at a time of crisis can have huge effects and dissuade consumers from a brand for the long term. By closely monitoring what is being said about their brand online, McDonalds was able to add to the conversation in an authentic way at the right moment.

Brand value

This approach will only work for brands that have confidence in their follower base and the amount of positive sentiment vs negative towards the brand. Brand Passion Reports that look at earned mentions across a range social media platforms place McDonalds in the top 10 brands that online audiences are most passionate about.

McDonalds understand this and by closely monitoring activity can leverage this and use it to their advantage. The simple idea was a great way to connect authentically with consumers during a time where doing just that was increasingly hard.

As drive through’s reopened in late May, chaos reigned as hundreds of customers sat in mile long queues up and down the country to get their McDonalds fix. This just goes to show how many die-hard McDonalds fans there are out there. This trend can also be seen in the share of voice that McDonalds has vs other fast food chains online. Compare McDonalds to Burger King for Share of Voice in the UK and there is an out and out winner.

a graph showing Burger King share of voice online throughout lockdown
Burger King’s share of voice
A graph showing McDonald's share of voice online throughout lockdown
McDonald’s share of voice

Near misses

The approach of a lot of McDonalds advertising is to take brand love as a given and simply work to re-enforce or affirm it. Take the recent ‘Near misses’ campaign to promote the extension of the hours that they now serve breakfast. We’ve all been there, just missing your train as it pulls away from your stop, getting to the post office just as they close for the day, or, worst of all of these, just missing McDonalds breakfast in the morning. And it’s completely true, the sinking feeling that you get when you realise that you have in fact just missed their breakfast menu, is a feeling that is hard to forget. The ad alone has gotten over 2.5 million views on Youtube since December of last year. This softer approach to advertising based on a simple and relatable idea has been McDonalds take for several years now.


Despite occupying essentially the same space in the fast-food industry in terms of product, it is clear that the two brands market themselves very differently. McDonalds’ iconic golden arches are a symbol recognised the world over. For many McDonalds is seen as the original fast-food of a generation and Burger King as the contender, this may also be the case in terms of brand value and actual market share.

In terms of marketing it is clear that Burger King takes a lot more risks, whereas McDonalds takes a different approach, maintaining a warmth and humanity to most of its advertising. Although Burger King’s brand may not be as well-loved just yet, they are definitely making a mark for themselves with creative and bold marketing tactics. In fact, Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer has said that he sees creativity as the brand’s competitive advantage. Potentially this is just the attitude they needed in order to make a long-lasting impact on consumers and help to build on the brand as it is today.

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