Last week Burger King and McDonald’s had an interesting interaction, which has generated a stream of media attention and been described as a brilliant marketing and public relations play.

Burger King pulled together a large-scale campaign proposing a “peace offering” to McDonald’s in the form of a joint burger called the McWhopper. This idea was put forth to demonstrate that the two global household names could put aside their differences and raise awareness for “Peace One Day,” a day of global unity occurring on September 21.

Burger King presented its proposal in the form of a McWhopper website with strong content, including videos, design samples and an open letter to McDonald’s describing the opportunity. While most consumers found this to be a genius idea, it became apparent McDonald’s did not feel the same when they responded with a Facebook post in which they politely declined, noting the two companies had an opportunity to “do something much bigger” to raise awareness for a global effort.

This response from McDonald’s ultimately received a decent amount of backlash and the company was criticized for the content of its response, where it was posted and a lack of transparency when it came to the “bigger effort” to raise awareness. It’s extremely important for companies to consider these types of factors when constructing a public response and to anticipate the various reactions it might receive, both positive and negative.

So why was this campaign successful for Burger King?

Regardless of the response Burger King would receive from McDonald’s, the fast-food chain set itself up for success. By tying the campaign to a meaningful cause, that was relatively unheard of prior to this event, Burger King was able to demonstrate their thought leadership and dedication to corporate social responsibility in a way that had not yet been explored.

Burger King also knew that a McWhopper would be universally appealing and attract widespread attention regardless of whether McDonald’s was fully on board. It was clear this would effectively garner media coverage and spark a conversation among consumers.

The other brands that offered to jump on the bandwagon following McDonald’s pass only generated further hype around the campaign. Denny’s even took out a full page ad in USA TODAY and The New York Times to show their support. Krystal, Wayback Burgers and Giraffas also took to social media to creatively express their support for a partnership.

Ultimately, Burger King was able to continue the “peace offering” conversation past the average news cycle and solidify its role as a leader in the fast-food industry by demonstrating its creative and unique approach to marketing and social responsibility.

-Kelsey Keegan

Photo via Flickr account pointnshoot