McDonalds Vs Burger King – A battle of brand association

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All brands have meaning in the minds of their market
Whether carefully and strategically considered or by default, all brands hold associated meanings in the minds of the market place. Well considered brands establish a competitive brand proposition (their brand strategy) with layers of meaning to both differentiate themselves from their competitors and to connect with their audience. These brands reinforce their meaning through all of their actions or brand touch points and their brand identity design. As a brand agency we help brands to define their meaning and create their unique branding for all their communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the hearts and minds of their customers.

McDonalds Vs Burger King (Trading as ‘Hungry Jacks’ in Australia)
Today we compare the brand associations of these two global fast food giants. When it comes to fast food burgers, these two brands are synonymous with the category, so what are the main differences in how the market sees them?

fast food branding

A Snapshot of Brand Association
The clever people at Brand Tags have been busy collecting a comprehensive list of more than 1.7 million associations that people from around the globe have with brands. The result is a unique opportunity for us to compare their brand communication strategy with the brand associations of a cross section of the market. Site visiors are asked to provide the strongest association they have with a particular brand. The responses are turned into these word towers, with the most common response appearing at the top in the largest font size, with less common responses cascading downwards. We’ve taken the top 20-or-so associations out of more than one hundred to illustrate these examples. The up-side is that everyone on the planet knows these brands and has a view. The down-side is that there is no distinct audience providing the brand associations, leaving us to interpret and draw insights.

A Comparison of Brand Associations
Not surprisingly both brands associate heavily with their product and category; burger, fast food, fries, etc. rating highly. Both also score highly in branded product name association with Whopper, Big Mac and French Fries all appearing in the top ten associations. Also illustrated graphically are the negative health/brand associations.

Number one brand association for McDonalds and number two for Burger King is ‘fat’. But building on that theme; grease, unhealthy, gross, crap, evil, junk food, greasy, yuck and disgusting all appear on the brand association list. In fact, almost half of all associations are negative and relate to how bad the product is for your health. Of all the categories we’ve looked at, this is an extraordinarily high ratio of negative brand associations.

Both brands also feature Cheap in their top twenty brand associations. For some brands, cheap is a wholly negative association, but if you’re in a price sensitive category and your brand’s proposition includes value, Cheap is a positive.

The McDonalds Brand
Once we clear out the functional and negative brand associations, there’s not alot of cheer left for Maccas. This is a brand without alot of love left in the room.

Interestingly, the McDonald’s ‘Make Your Own’ menu approach is undermining the brand’s value association. It’s now possible (even likely) to spend $12-$16 on a McDonalds burger. This must have an impact on the brand’s value proposition. A recent conversation I had with a mother of a family of six recounted her latest McDonalds visit, where for the first time the family’s meal cam to more than $100. This compares with a perception of it previously costing “around $50”. Likewise the recent ‘cook to order’ change has increased customer wait times. There’s no faster way to change brand value perceptions.

From a brand asset perspective, it’s always reassuring to see a descriptor such as ‘The Golden Arches’ appearing on the list, underscoring the connection that customers have between brand and brand identity. In a relatively negative showing of brand association, this is the one, small shining light.

The Burger King Brand
As with the brand associations for McDonalds, Burger King’s brand associations are heavily weighted towards functional menu items and unhealthy eating.

The positive associations are those that connect the brand with The King branding asset and the ‘have it your way’ advertising copy line which has clearly entered into common vernacular. Unfortunately as the brand shifts from market to market and adjusts it’s branding accordingly, both of these associations fail to travel across border.

The Verdict
All-in-all, there’s no clear winner in this battle of brand association. Both brands are clearly struggling to stay relevant in the booming consumer trend of healthy eating and healthy living. There’s plenty of work for both brands to regain a positive place in the hearts and minds of consumers. With so little positivity, loyalty and love in these brand associations, this one has turned into a battle for the biggest loser.

If you’d like some help to define the meaning for your brand and create your communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the minds of their customers, why not drop us a line?

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more at…
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McDonalds photo from Jurij Kenda & Burger King photo from Ismail Hadine on Unsplash.

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