Monday, August 24, 2009

The art of the slam

And now, a public service warning to the goliaths of restaurant advertising: Put on a helmet. A pack of would-be David’s is betting that a bucket of stones can be an effective marketing program.

Second-tier chains have been hurling more disparagements at bigger rivals than Don Rickles serves up in a month. Look at the more memorable campaigns of recent weeks. Carl’s Jr. took aim at McDonald’s revered Big Mac by introducing a “Big Carl” in commercials that all but taunted na-na-na-na-na-na. The commercials define the new premium sandwich by highlighting how the Mac can’t measure up in heft (the Big Carl boasts twice the meat and cheese) and price (it costs roughly 50 cents less).

Then there’s the absolute trash-talk. In a confrontation between talking sandwiches, all Mac can offer in its defense is having been born with a third bun.

Another installment makes fun of McDonald’s two-all-beef-patties Big Mac jingle, and a third features a Big Mac asking a Big Carl about the size of his beef, explaining that he's considering a patty enlargement to make his buns look smaller.

The kick-the-Arches effort coincides with a Carl’s publicity campaign aimed at McDonald’s new Third Pounder Angus burger. The effort encourages consumers not to be taken in by “the McHype,” and notes that Carl’s has been featuring big Angus burgers for years.

A similar don’t-you-wish-you-were-me? Campaign raged this summer as the El Pollo Loco chicken chain took aim at the king of the coop, KFC. After the bigger chain introduced its grilled chicken, EPL, a grilled-chicken specialist, ran a series of commercials that pecked at KFC’s honesty.

One noted that KFC stores still don’t have grills, so how authentic could the new product be?

Others asserted that the new chicken was flavored in part with beef, without any heads-up to consumers.

Still another replayed comments that were supposedly left on an EPL answering machine by consumers who had tasted both EPL's grilled chicken and KFC's new product. Patrons had been asked to sample the two products side by side and recount their preference.

Several of the comments slammed EPL's product, asserting that Kentucky Grilled Chicken was superior. The ads point out that the callers' numbers had been traced to KFC's headquarters in Louisville, Ky., where EPL had no stores.

Not all of the snapping comes from regional chains like Carl’s and EPL. Burger King, for instance, ran commercials in some markets earlier this year to promote its double cheeseburger as a better deal than McDonald’s comparable item. The ads featured a young man who balks at his friend’s suggestion that they hit Burger King for the two-patty sandwich. Under pressure, the kid admits that he has tiny hands, which he then displays. How can he hold a behemoth like the BK double burger?

The commercial closes with the friend holding the BK burger so his tiny-handed friend can take a bite.

The campaign was reportedly resurrected in Chicago, and New York stations are airing a variant where the tiny-handed youngster objects to getting a $1 Jr. Whopper.

(If you’re over 27, you may not be aware that there’s a series of tiny hand videos on free vid-sharing sites that have nothing to do with BK. The clips show a guy with tiny hands trying to do things like audition for an antacid commercial or work as a babysitter. Apparently this is high humor among the same people who find The King to be hilarious.)

Sometimes the sniping even creeps into familial situations. The Arby’s sandwich chain is promoting its new Roastburger sandwiches as “the burger done better.” The concept is a sister of Wendy’s a burger chain.

Then again, it’s hard to have sympathy for Wendy’s. The tagline for its burgers and other specialties: “It’s waaaay better than fast-food.”

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