How An App Trick Allowed Burger King To Offer Whoppers At McDonald's

Sometimes, "guerrilla marketing" turns into guerrilla "warfare" between competing restaurants. Recently, Burger King found a way to make its "weapon" effective while literally in "enemy territory" using cleverly deployed technology and a fantastic sale on its iconic burger, the Whopper.

The Whopper has been part of many Burger King promotions in the past, like a giveaway to celebrate its birthday, a Pride Month special, and a twist to commemorate Halloween that hinged on a promotion aimed at its competitors. The classic Whopper's story goes all the way back to the earliest days of the franchise, according to Nation's Restaurant News. Burger King debuted the sandwich in 1957, presenting it as a larger and more flavorful alternative to standard fast food burgers. The latest marketing push for the Whopper takes direct aim at one of Burger King's oldest and biggest rivals, McDonald's.

Investopedia says guerrilla marketing is an approach to product promotion that uses unexpected elements. There's no more unexpected tactic than finding a way to sell your most popular burger to customers who are literally at one of your competitors' locations. That's exactly what Burger King developed a strategy for in 2018, however.

Burger King virtually set up shop inside McDonald's

No, a few ambitious Burger King employees didn't invade McDonald's locations and just start selling Whoppers. This plan was a little more subtle. CBC says the key was Burger King's mobile application and the geolocation on app users' devices.

The promotion, according to CBC, was called "The Whopper Detour" and it lasted for nine days in late 2018. This promotion offered a Whopper for a single cent to anyone who downloaded Burger King's app and then placed an order for that Whopper while at a McDonald's. The strategy really wasn't covert, either, as Burger King ran ads advertising the promotion. CBC adds that the promotion led to over 1.5 million new downloads of the Burger King app during the promotional period.

Mark Henricks wrote for American Express about how marketing that calls out the competition by name can be effective but can also backfire in essentially giving free advertising to a competitor. In this case, it's quite possible that many people who went to a McDonald's to take advantage of Burger King's offer also ordered a Big Mac while they were there. As Contagious notes, though, the point of the promotion for Burger King was to incentivize people to download its app, so mission accomplished even if it did give McDonald's some sales.

As both Burger King and McDonald's have been around since the 1950s, this rivalry probably isn't going anywhere and it might produce yet even more guerrilla tactics in the coming years.