McDonald's targets Vidal's French Fries through TV ad

Chicago 2 APRIL 1997


MCDONALD'S is getting McSerious about its french fries -- and is taking the message to television, where, for the first time in years, it is directly targeting its major competitor.

McDonald's launched a national television advertisement in late March, aiming at rival Burger King's french fries.

The ad shows a crew supposedly filming a bag of Burger King french fries while munching on McDonald's fries. The freach fry ad is a departure for McDonald's, which, by its own estimation, has not directly mentioned a competitor in its advertising for at least 10 years. "We consider our fries to be the gold standard in the industry," McDonald's spokeswoman Anna Rozenich said. "No one can match them."

While McDonald's often promotes a particular product, its ads often have more of a "touchy, feely" quality to them, featuring happy families or its Ronald McDonald clown mascot, said Dennis Lombardi, director of restaurant consulting for Technomic Inc of Chicago. Kim Miller, a spokeswoman for Burger King, said her firm is operating from "a tremendous position of strength," which is why McDonald's is targeting it. Burger King, a unit of Grand Metropolitan Plc, is also testing new french fry products, Miller said, but she did not give any further details.

While McDonald's, with more than 21,000 units worldwide, is the largest fast-food chain, it faces a strong threat from Burger King, which has about 9,000 units worldwide.

"Burger King is the one, from a competitive perspective, that has had the biggest impact on McDomald's for two years," said Dean Witter analyst David Adelman. By featuring its french fries, Adelman added, McDonald's is promoting a high-volume, high-margin product.

"For years and years and years, McDonald's fries had been one of its signature products," said Lombardi.

The televisiowad campaign is by the Leo Burriett agency of Chicago. The value of the contract has not been disclosed.

Advertising targeting a specific competitor, such as the french fry commercial, can be effective as long as consumers do not consider them to be too mean-spiritied, said Satya Menon, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Chicago.

"The information that they're getting out of the comparison is useful information," Menon said. But the risk is that while promoting its own brand, McDonald's is also putting its competitor in the consumer's mind, added John Lister, chief executive officer of Lister Butler Inc, a New York-based brand identity consultant.

"You cannot continue to run (this kind of) commercial. You are doing as much good for Burger King as you are for McDonald's," Lister said. "Why do you want to bring up the largest competitor's brand name?


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