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Burger King's Spooktacular Triumph Over McDonald's

In the fiercely competitive quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry, grabbing the attention of consumers and building brand recognition is paramount. Burger King, known for its creative and attention-grabbing campaigns, closed out the year 2017 with a Halloween-themed campaign that would leave a lasting impact. This seemingly simple campaign, titled "Scary Clown Night," proved to be a nightmare for its rival, McDonald's, as it clinched three Gold Lion awards at Cannes Lions 2018. So, what made this Burger King campaign a "spooktacular" success and a horrifying night for McDonald's?


Context

The QSR industry is known for its cutthroat competition. To stay ahead, brands often focus on robust marketing strategies to attract customers and enhance their brand visibility. Creating a buzz is a key element in capturing consumer attention. Burger King has consistently impressed consumers with memorable campaigns, especially during Halloween, such as "Black Whopper" (2015) and "McDonald’s Ghost" (2016), which successfully leveraged the Halloween spirit. Therefore, in Halloween 2017, Burger King embarked on a campaign with the hope of making a significant impact on the media landscape.


Objectives

The campaign aimed to achieve two primary objectives: increase foot traffic to Burger King outlets and raise brand awareness through interactive engagements between customers and the brand.


Strategy

Understanding prevailing trends and consumer psychology is critical in creating a campaign that resonates. Burger King employed social media listening and digital data analysis to comprehend Halloween 2017 trends and customer sentiments. At that time, the movie "It," featuring a menacing clown, was creating a social media frenzy due to its intense storyline. Coincidentally, clowns ranked third among the most popular Halloween cosplay concepts. The fact that McDonald's mascot, Ronald McDonald, is a clown added a layer of rivalry, making it a hot topic. Both brands engaging in playful banter further piqued customer interest. These interconnected insights presented Burger King with an excellent opportunity to generate viral publicity during Halloween 2017. Understanding consumer psychology, which often involves dressing up and dining out during holidays, Burger King designed a brand activation campaign, offering customers a chance to continue the ongoing prank war with their arch-nemesis, McDonald's.


Creative Idea

Come as a clown, eat like a king.

Based on trending themes and customer sentiments during the holiday season, the "Scary Clown Night" campaign was born. The tagline, "Come as a clown, eat like a king," served as an enticing invitation from Burger King to its customers. The campaign promised a Halloween feast fit for "kings" and clowns alike.


Execution

To capture consumer attention, Burger King went all out with both offline and online marketing channels.


Invitation

The campaign began with a suspenseful video invitation released on October 24, 2017. The video resembled a short horror film, with the protagonist navigating a night filled with eerie clowns chasing them. Among the clowns, a familiar face—Ronald McDonald from McDonald's—was seen rushing to Burger King to claim a free Whopper along with his clown companions. This playful dig at their competitor added another layer to the campaign's success.


Teaser Video

Print

Five distinct poster designs were used to promote the campaign, showcasing Burger King's use of both online and offline platforms to generate buzz for the event. The posters depicted a night filled with clowns and exciting experiences at Burger King.


Social Media

Burger King issued press releases and posted video teasers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, announcing its Halloween extravaganza. These social media posts played a crucial role in reminding the world of Burger King's upcoming event, extending the campaign's reach to a wider audience.


Activation

The campaign was rolled out in 35 countries, with key markets including Spain, the UK, Russia, Brazil, and the USA. Over 1,500 Burger King outlets worldwide participated, estimating a turnout of more than 110,000 customers. On Halloween night in 2017, these outlets simultaneously offered 500 free Whoppers to the first 500 customers dressed as clowns between 7:00 PM and 3:00 AM on October 31, 2017. The event served as the centerpiece of the campaign, providing customers with free meals, opportunities to socialize with fellow clowns, and late-night festivities. These memorable experiences ensured that Burger King remained top-of-mind for an extended period.


Results

The "Scary Clown Night" campaign achieved significant results:

  • The hashtag #scaryclownnight was mentioned in over 1,100 articles across 40 countries.

  • 2.1 billion earned impressions.

  • Total media value of $22.4 million.

  • Over 110,000 participants across 35 countries.

  • A 15% increase in sales.

  • A 21% increase in customer footfall.

  • "Clown" became the hottest Halloween cosplay concept.

Awards:

At Cannes Lions 2018:

  • Brand Experience & Activation – Gold Lion.

  • Direct Lions – Gold Lion, 2 Bronze Lion.

  • Outdoor Lion – Gold Lion.

This campaign's clever prank on McDonald's, combined with a keen understanding of trending topics and consumer behavior, amplified the success of "Scary Clown Night." It not only secured prestigious awards but also led to a 21% increase in customer foot traffic and a 15% boost in sales.

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