Which do you think is better: ' McDonald's' or 'Burger King?' 

Or maybe you'd guess that 'Starbucks' is better, or else 'KFC,' 'Chipotle,' or even 'Wendy's?'   

When it comes to the food, of course, it's a matter of personal preference and taste. But when you put those brand names in quotes like above, we're talking about the monetary value of each trademarked name and all the associated assets.

And a new brand study says the answer is crystal clear. In fact's not even close.

McDonald's takes the prize

The study by WPP and Kantar earlier this month ranked the top brands in the world, and it also included a subset: the world's top fast food brands. 

McDonald's runs away with this year's prize for the most valuable brand, as it does year after year. According to the study, the intrinsic value of the Golden Arches (and everything else associated with the McDonald's brand) is $130.4 billion. 

In fact, McDonald's is number-9 among all brands in the world, and the only non-tech brand that slips into the top 10. (Amazon tops the list, as I wrote earlier, with Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Visa rounding out the top five overall.)

Here are the rest of the top 10 fast food brands ranked by worldwide brand value, according to the study:

  1. McDonald's:  $130.4 billion
  2. Starbucks:   $45.9 billion
  3. KFC:  $17.2 billion
  4. Subway:  $17.1 billion
  5. Domino's Pizza:  $9.6 billion
  6. Pizza Hut:  $7.6 billion
  7. Burger King:  $7.1 billion
  8. Tim Horton's:  $6.7 billion
  9. Chipotle:  $6.2 billion
  10. Taco Bell:  $6.2 billion

(You can find the whole data package here. Be forewarned that it's a 300-page document.) 

McDonald's vs. Burger King

It's striking as a consumer just how much brand value drops off as we go down the list. Really? Starbucks as a brand is worth just one-third what McDonald's is? 

Within the United States anyway, McDonald's and Burger King are seen as rivals, with Wendy's and a host of smaller chains trying to punch above their weight in the burger wars.

In fact, some of the competition among the brands is legendary (and frankly fun to write about), with Burger King launching an app that lets you order a Whopper for 1-cent from a geo-tagged McDonald's parking lot, and then launching a line of "Real Meals" to parody McDonald's "Happy Meals."

Granted, McDonald's is the second-largest fast food chain in the world.

But if you believe this study, 'McDonald's' as a brand is worth almost 18.5 times as much as 'Burger King,' even though McDonald's only has about twice as many restaurants worldwide.

I can't even tell you the degree to which McDonald's is supposedly worth more than Wendy's as a brand, because Wendy's doesn't even make the top-10.

Nor does Dunkin', by the way. And as a native New Englander, I find that surprising.

Especially given the news earlier this year that McDonald's planned to release some breakfast items that seem -- shall we say, inspired -- by Dunkin's offerings.

Domino's and Chipotle

Factors that help McDonald's stay on top and even increase its brand value over last year, according to the Brand Z study, include upgrading many restaurants to its "Experience of the Future" model.

This is the model that lets customers order from a counter, a kiosk, an app, a drive-through, or by having their meal delivered to them at a table. 

Across the board, the degree to which fast food brands embraced digital technology -- like apps and delivery -- seemed to affect their brand value most, according to the study.

Two brands to watch, by the way: Domino's and Chipotle. In both cases, we're looking at significant jumps in value from a year ago.

For Domino's, the increase seems attributable mainly to digital growth.

And BrandZ also gave Chipotle -- which is up 40 percent from a year ago -- credit for "a tremendous recovery from its food safety problems."

"Under a new management team, Chipotle successfully attempted to reclaim its fresh-and-healthy credibility," the study said. "A campaign called 'For Real' emphasized fresh ingredients with the tagline, 'The only ingredient at Chipotle that's hard to pronounce is Chipotle.'"  

They're good brands with long pedigrees and maybe even a new lease on life. But it looks like they've got a lot of road to travel before they rival McDonald's.

Think about that, the next time you wonder whether marketing and working to increase your brand's value -- no matter what your business -- is likely to pay off.

Published on: Jun 23, 2019
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