Burger King takes a pop at Ronald McDonald with a clown-free campaign

Burger King takes a pop at Ronald McDonald with a clown-free campaign

The Background

For those that follow such things, it seems almost impossible for a week to go by and not see some bit of Burger-King-based McDonald's bashing.  

Probably most notably remembered for the iconic McWhopper stunt of 2015, the laser-focused marketing approach stems from the wilderness years for BK back at the start of the 21st century when the likes of  Subway and even Starbucks were outselling BK to take the top spot as McDonald's' main competitor.  

Changes in management and a revival strategy squarely aimed at directly chipping away at the power of The Golden Arches initially with a slew of not-so-subtle replications of better and cheaper classic Maccy D's dishes in BK stores.   

The latest round of calculated stunts and campaigns are once again out to win the hearts, minds and stomachs of consumers in the epic battle for market share.

The Big Idea

Earlier this month, Burger King launched a series of print ads asking parents to host their children's birthday parties in a 'clown-free' environment.  

Having a pop at Ronald McDonald himself, the series of very retro and very real family photo album portraits showcase a series of creepy party clowns grappling with hysterical kids in tears.  

Each featuring the tagline "Birthdays should be happy. Come to Burger King and book a clown-free party".

What They Did

The campaign's dig at Ron was rolled out as a series of print ads that beautifully embraced the scary clown stereotype against the backdrop of what is supposed to be the most fun-filled days of the year.

Strategically aimed at reminding us that Burger Kings hosts kids parties too, the creative serves up a nostalgia trip down memory lane that evokes any number of terrible kids parties from our collective past.

Created by LOLA MullenLowe Madrid and initially launched in print publications in Mexico, the bold creative very quickly created buzz online, followed by some sharing on social that helped it make its way into mainstream media.  

With words from Burger King's head of global marketing Marcelo Pascoa, whose carefully prepared statement gently sticks the knife in further, saying "Burger King knows that birthdays are a very big deal for kids, and we believe they should be fun and clown-free. We prefer to be on the good side of children’s memories not the scary ones, like the traumatised kids in these ads."

The Review

It's a great idea and a great gag that gets the tone right. 

Looking at it, it probably didn't cost a great deal to execute and seems to have maximised its spend further with global recognition. What's most interesting is where this sits in the context of the long line of 'trolling' Burger King has now transformed its global marketing strategy to be.  

This is a brilliant second iteration derived from the award-winning Scary Clown Night Halloween campaign (also created by LOLA MullenLowe) that capitalised on the cinematic launch of Stephen King's IT – one in a long line of stunts that seem only to be gaining momentum with ever more relentless regularity.  

These range from the carefully plotted Brazilian-based 'Burn That Ad' AR campaign to recent twitter based news-jacking of McDonald's ban on milkshakes in an effort to deter a further protest dousing of Nigel Farage in Scotland. 

What's most impressive is how one of the largest fast-food companies on the planet has managed to take such a bold and focused approach. 

These tactics, which seem to flow through every element of the business's global comms, feel very natural in tone and have helped to paint Burger King in a unique anti-establishment light.

In Hindsight

Clown Free Birthdays has the tone just right with an iteration of a gag that places McDonald's squarely as the butt of the joke, and it still has people laughing.  

However, the speed at which it is throwing out these attacks on its rival has led to an awfully judged misstep – taking the recent 'Real Meals’ offensively clumsy attempt to align with mental-health awareness as case in point.  

With the inevitable backlash around this, and to some degree 'Shake Gate' (which had its critics) – how long can Burger King keep this going? 

Only time will tell.

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