The Burger King came in peace. And Ronald McDonald shot him in the back.
In case you missed it, Burger King took out a full page ad in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune yesterday, proposing a one-day truce in support of world peace. The pitch was in collaboration with Peace One Day, a non-profit that is lobbying to make September 21 "Peace Day."
As Burger King states in its ad:
We'd like to propose a one-off collaboration between Burger King and McDonald's to create something special--something that gets the world talking about Peace Day.
All the tastiest bits of your Big Mac and our Whopper, united in one delicious, peace-loving burger. Developed together, cooked together, and available in one location for one day only--Peace Day 2015, with all proceeds benefiting Peace One Day.
Burger King also put together a promotional video to fully relate its proposal:
The ad concludes:
Let's end the beef. With beef.
So how did McDonald's respond?
McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook, who hasn't exactly been crushing it with the media lately, politely (albeit sarcastically) declined. He pointed out that the "friendly business competition" between the two fast-food giants shouldn't be equated to the pain and suffering of war, and suggested the two brands do something bigger to make a difference.
Here's the Facebook post:
Okay, let's slow our roll for a second. First things first: This is a PR stunt from Burger King, nothing more. Call me cynical as much as you want, but there's nothing these two companies could do to make a dent in one of the world's largest and most complex problems.
But McDonald's commits a major fail here. Just take a look at the most liked comments below Easterbrook's post:
The problem is not the message McDonald's sent. Easterbrook is completely right in suggesting that this rivalry is nothing like the horrors of war. (Duh.)
But the delivery is horrible. In his reply, the McDonald's chief comes off as pompous, condescending, and emotionally unintelligent. Burger King emerges as the good guy, by default.
Here are two reasons why the McDonald's response was disastrous, along with some takeaways:
1. It's arrogant.
The first five lines of the McDonald's Facebook post follow all the rules of great communication. The company acknowledges that Burger King's idea is great. It's respectful in expressing a difference in opinion. It promises commitment to join forces with the adversary, and even hints at an alternative solution.
Then, without warning, Easterbrook proceeds to lecture the rival company. Of course he's right that war between countries is not comparable to business competition, but this isn't the right context for that.
But the worst part of the message is the end. Instead of taking opportunity to clean up the mess and leave innocent bystanders with a positive taste in their mouths, Easterbrook concludes with the following:
P.S. A simple phone call will do next time.
It's no wonder we're reading comments on social media denouncing the McDonald's message as "unnecessarily stiff," "pompous random gibberish," and "high and mighty."
Lesson: Before saying something you might regret, ask yourself: Does this need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me, right now? (Credit to actor/comedian Craig Ferguson for teaching me that.)
Millions of stupid emails would be avoided every day, if people just shortened them. And mom had it right: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
2. It un-American.
I'm not talking about patriotism here. Think more ... cultural awareness.
Look, I love British humor, er, humour. I've loved it every since discovering Monty Python as a kid. And Ricky Gervais is a genius.
But this wasn't the right place for it. (Anybody else reminded here of the Piers Morgan fiasco?) We can't pin all the blame on Easterbrook; his team certainly dropped the ball on this one. But with the final say, he showed a remarkable lack of understanding of American society and consumers.
Lesson: Diversity is beautiful. Be yourself, and embrace your culture. But learn to deliver your message in a way that your audience will accept, or the message loses all its value.
My advice to the Golden Arches: Fix this quick.
Because Ronald isn't looking very peaceful at the moment.
What do you think? Did McDonald's blow it with their response? Happy to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.