Fizzy Drinks, Burgers & Saving The World

In case you’re not aware September 21st is Peace Day, the official day of ‘global ceasefire & non-violence’ organised by the charity Peace One Day; it’s been recognised by the United Nations, claims to have exposed more than 1 billion people to its message and to have driven more peaceful behaviour in 10 million people. Some might say that these are all rather fluffy claims of success, but that’s a matter for a different post.

In keeping with all good modern NGOs, Peace One Day has a number of corporate partners and this year one of those, Burger King, decided that a good way to make Peace Day “a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known” would be to challenge their biggest competitor, McDonald’s, to create a mash-up of their, respective, most well-known creations.

In a pop-up restaurant.

In that well known war-zone, Atlanta, Georgia.

McDonald’s’ CEO, in what was, in my opinion at least, a simple and well argued response,  politely declined the opportunity.

…let’s acknowledge that between us there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war.

We’ll be in touch.

P.S. A simple phone call will do next time.

The P.S. was a reference to the fact that in order to make the offer Burger King took out full-page newspaper ads, not to mention the videos and websites they created, without really explaining exactly how any of this would benefit anyone (other than them and their ad-agency who have probably prepared the entry for Cannes already).

 It’s not completely clear what the fund-raising aims (if any) of the pop-up store would be. Though The New York Times reports that proceeds from the sales would go to Peace One Day, a non-profit that raises awareness about the United Nations-declared day of cease-fire and nonviolence, Burger King’s micro-site suggests the burgers would be free, but patrons would have to sign their own “peace treaties” with enemies — a standard form would be printed on tray mats.

Since then the internet has been abuzz with the story with many proclaiming that McDonald’s has “lost” the “social media burger war“, whilst numerous other brands all jumped in, desperate to show what good sports they were and how much they wanted to help world peace, like some corporate blend of a Miss World winner and Smashie & Nicey.

These brands have all dived in because they want to be associated with good causes; it’s presumably with this in mind that the people behind Buy The World A Hope created their website which asks Coke not to spend any money on advertising for a year and use their (estimated) $3 billion annual advertising budget to invest in rain-forest protection instead.

Buy The World A Hope make this request with the reasoning that doing this would be much more effective than traditional advertising and because, according to research,”83% of global consumers say they will change what they buy if that brand makes the world a better place“.

Firstly, if traditional advertising was so ineffective, it’s incredibly unlikely that Coke would be spending billions of dollars on it. Which means that doing what Buy The World A Hope ask would result in sales of Coke plunging, meaning they wouldn’t have any money left to spend on any causes¹.

And, as for the statistic ‘83% of people claiming they’d change what they buy if that brands makes the world a better place’ the simple fact of the matter is that people lie. If anything it’s surprising that there are 17% of people happy to be identified as grinch-types, who don’t care what happens to the world.

But if you track actions as opposed to stated intentions you’ll find that unfortunately a lot less of us are actually prepared to change what we do or buy in order to really drive change. We still buy products with palm oil in them, t-shirts that are cheap because they’re made in sweat-shops and never tick the carbon off-setting box when we book flights.

So who really won or lost?

Sadly, judging by many of the comments under the McDonald’s’ CEO’s response, many people seem to think that Burger King are the heroes here, because of their amazing ‘sense of humour’. And it strikes me that they’re certainly the ones with reason to laugh. They’ve managed to associate themselves with the rather nebulous concept of Peace Day by ‘offering’ their (much bigger and more successful) competitor an opportunity to get involved in a PR stunt, all on Burger King’s terms.

Meanwhile 3-year olds fleeing actual wars, rather than “social media burger” ones, are being washed up on beaches; governments around the world continue to fail to do anything meaningful about climate change; and all those clamouring to buy the Peace Burger, or signing a petition asking Coke to stop making ads (99% of whom, I would guess, don’t live anywhere near a real war-zone), will be able to go back to their couches, happy in the delusion that they’ve somehow done something of value.

At least Nero fiddled whilst Rome burned** – it takes a bit more effort than sending a tweet.

* Their argument here is so naive as to be laughable:

With profits from each sale going to the cause, Coke could create billions of more active fans than normal advertising…In terms of online marketing reach, this approach could be many times more efficient than normal advertising: the brand’s most popular advert (under 50 million views) was seen by far less people than the most popular music video (2 billion views).

This is the marketing form of alchemy, as if some there is some magical process that would enable Coke to suddenly become as popular as pop stars. The fact that the Hope video has itself only received about 6,000 views at the type of writing probably proves that point.

**Actually, he probably didn’t, and not only because there were no fiddles back then. It’s most likely a case of anti-Nero propaganda – he obviously didn’t have Burger King’s PR agency.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *