End the beef: why Burger King wants people to eat at McDonald’s

Name: Burger King.

Age: 67. It was founded in Florida in 1953 as Insta-Burger King.

Appearance: Ubiquitous. It has 18,000 outlets in 100 countries; half of them are in the US.

Whopping: Indeed.

A ruthless fast-food company in cut-throat competition with McDonald’s, presumably? That has certainly been the case up to now. You are of course thinking of the legendary burger wars of the 1970s and 80s when McDonald’s, the No 1 player in the market, Burger King and Wendy’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars attacking each other.

Naturally. They savaged the size of their rivals’ burgers and their content – “Where’s the beef?” demanded Wendy’s with a slogan that entered the political lexicon. However, for Burger King and Wendy’s, the wall-to-wall advertising designed to eviscerate the opposition failed to prevent huge financial losses.

Halcyon days. A boom time for advertising companies, for sure, but the war is over.

What do you mean? You haven’t looked at Burger King’s Twitter account recently?

I’ve been rather preoccupied with the US presidential election. Well, take a look.

Why don’t you just tell me what they’re saying instead. OK, they think you should go and get a takeaway from McDonald’s.

WHAT? Yes, Burger King UK posted a short message under the headline “ORDER FROM McDONALD’S”.

What’s their game? “We never thought we’d be asking you to do this,” says the post, “but restaurants employing thousands of staff really need your support at the moment.” It also namechecks KFC, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Five Guys, Greggs, Taco Bell, Papa John’s Pizza and Leon.

That’s rather sweet: Some have admired this act of fellowship among fast- food chains. Others are more sceptical.

Go on: “Thank you, multibillion-dollar company for your incredibly heartfelt and sincere comment that isn’t totally an obvious ploy at increasing goodwill through an empty gesture by planting the seed that BK doesn’t completely suck,” says one unimpressed tweeter.

Cynic! The Burger King post does end with a plug for its own product – “Getting a Whopper is always best, but ordering a Big Mac is also not such a bad thing” – so a touch of healthy (or even unhealthy) scepticism may be in order.

This reminds me of something. Gerald Ratner?

No, Ratner was different. He attacked two of his own products and almost destroyed his jewellery business in the process. This is subtler – bigging yourself up by drawing attention to your main rival. Like Avis basing its “We try harder” advertising on being No 2 in the market to Hertz?

Closer, but the real parallel is with the classic 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, where Santa Claus gets New York department stores Macy’s and Gimbels to each recommend shopping at their rival. This apparently deranged act wins undying consumer loyalty. I don’t see it catching on, personally. They will be running attack ads again next year.

Do say: “What a lovely gesture in these difficult times.”

Don’t say: “How many calories are there in a Whopper?”