The agency behind Burger King's IT Ronald McDonald ambush reveals how to grill a rival

The agency behind Burger King's IT Ronald McDonald ambush reveals how to grill a rival

McDonald's long-endured mascot Ronald McDonald was grilled last week by rival Burger King in an IT movie marketing stunt.

During the end credits of a premiere of Stephen King's horror movie IT in Germany, a stealthily placed projectionist emblazoned the screen with the following message, 'The Moral is: Never Trust a Clown… Burger King'.

The reaction of viewers was recorded and distributed by the producing agency offering an experiential and social video exposure that gained attention during a busy media cycle.

The Drum caught up with the agency behind the cheeky activity to learn how to deliver a burn to a rival in such a fashion. Ralf Heuel, chief creative officer of Grabarz & Partner, revealed how simple the effective activation was to conduct.

It required the setting up of a projector and hidden cameras – and very little else. From conception to execution it took two weeks to deliver. Heuel added: “It also took a lot of nerve but luckily our friends at Burger King have a lot of that.”

In organsing the event, the agency shared very little with the participating cinema in order to keep a lid on the stunt. “We didn't tell them exactly what we were going to do. We wanted to make sure nothing got out before we did it,” added Heuel. The agency was keen to develop a “talking point and give the brand the right attributes” and one of the best ways to do this is to integrate with pop culture events like the release of IT.

“It was about using the German launch of the most successful horror film of all time to demonstrate that Burger King is the more contemporary brand, speaks the language of the target group and shares its humour.” There were reportedly many ideas on the table about how best to debase a certain clown mascot using the IT property. “We quickly came to a decision with Burger King that this stunt offered the best cost against benefit effect,” admitted Heuel.

One particular aspect of the activity is that it is very likely one of the longest ads ever run by Burger King, clocking in at 2 hours 15 minutes. “It shows that smart ideas are more important than ever in making brands a talking point all over the world.” And further to this, once the projection came alive, the crowd burst into rapturous applause. Heuel puts this down to a “relieving of physical tension and stress after watching a horror film for two hours”.

For a brand of its size, Burger King is no stranger to playful marketing be it taking over home assistants in a TV ad, or making hard-to-accept peace offerings to rival McDonald’s on World Peace Day. This is reflected in the company winning Marketer of the Year 2017 at the Cannes Lions.

Heuel added: “Of course, as well as classic adverts, we also run stunts, pranks, ambient and guerrilla advertising measures. And yes: we have a few exciting ideas up our sleeves for future occasions.”

It appears that the company ‘grills’ its competitors in order to bring attention to the fact it claims to be the only fast food company that grills its beef patties.

“In the campaigns and communication measures we develop with Burger King, we playfully take up this rivalry and we can use it to strike a chord in the target group again and again. We always design the campaigns with humour, respect and in our very own Burger King way, and entertain the target group and the general public as well as giving them lots to talk about.”

Watch your back McDonald’s, Burger King has more to come.

John McCarthy

John is an entertainment marketing reporter at The Drum. He writes about the amazing marketing stories coming from the movie, TV, music and video game industries. He's also the hunt for the weirder trends in marketing and advertising.

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