The Truth About The 1998 'Fry War'

Remember the year 1998? If you're under the age of 25, maybe not so much. But, here's a quick refresher course in all things that were popular two years before the dawn of the new millennium: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were the cute couple of the year, "Sex and the City" was must-see-TV, boy bands and nu metal were on the radio, and cargo pants, column skirts, and tank tops were all in vogue. Back in the White House, a scandal was also brewing as former president Bill Clinton was facing impeachment for his infamous affair.

But that wasn't even the year's biggest showdown. There was also the home run race between the Cardinals Mark McGwire and Cubs player Sammy Sosa –- spoiler alert: McGwire won, only to have his new record eclipsed a few years later by Barry Bonds. But also destined to live on in infamy is the loser of 1998's other biggest battle, the fry war between two fast food titans. While the chain that chose to start the fight didn't break any actual laws, they certainly perpetuated what we'd call a crime against food.

Burger King began the fry war ... and promptly lost

On January 2, 1998, as the Baltimore Sun reports, the first shot was fired in the great French Fry War when Burger King rebelled against long-time fry king McDonald's. How did they do it? By giving away free food. Up to that point, BK spent two years improving their recipe, and were sure they had come up with a superior product to that of their greatest competitor and launched a PR blitz to sway eaters to the other side by challenging Mickey D's fans to try their new fries for free. After Burger King served up a whopping 15 million orders, you'd think their move would have ended in victory. But, nope, it did not.

So how did Burger King go big, and still go home the loser? According to Chicago ad man Peter Krivkovich (as quoted in a video by YouTuber John M.): "When you do a comparison, you better be damn sure your product is noticeably better than your competitor's." Unfortunately for BK, this was definitely not the case. As a number of Redditors recall, Burger King's "new and improved" offering was actually pretty awful. One described it as "horrible coated french fries," while another said it felt like the fries "left a film in your mouth." A third used the word "pasty" to describe the food. While the general consensus is that Burger King's fries have improved over time, it's unlikely they're going to knock McDonald's fries out of the top spot any time soon.