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Big Mac vs Big Jack: Finding meaning in the burger wars

If I uttered the phrase “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – on a sesame seed bun” most people would know instantly what I’m talking about. It’s the iconic advertising jingle listing the ingredients of a Big Mac. And now, the Big Jack.

In the latest instalment of the burger wars, dubbed by the media as the ‘fast feud’, challenger brand Hungry Jacks took on the mighty golden arches. They released the Big Jack burger with the same list of ingredients as McDonald’s flagship burger, the Big Mac. 

Of course, Hungry Jacks denied it was ripping off the Big Mac and of course, Macca’s was pissed and sued them. Hungry Jacks fired back in their classic cheeky style, with an ad poking fun at the lawsuit. McDonald’s responded in their predictable style of a supersized lawsuit. 

But the story didn’t stop there. Rashays, a debutant in the burger wars, landed a blow from left field. They announced a new menu item called the Big MacJac made from, you guessed it, the same ingredients as the Big Mac and the Big Jack. In no shock to anyone, McDonald’s promptly slapped them with a cease-and-desist order.

This is where things got interesting for me. Before I go further, this isn’t an op ed about the ongoing rivalry between these burger behemoths. It’s about the missed opportunity to create meaning for a brand that clearly wants to stand for something. I’m talking about Rashays.

While most of the media coverage focused on the war between McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks, some media did pick up on Rashays’ angle (props to Rashays for their excellent use of newsjacking). 

The founder was quoted as saying: “We can’t believe in these tough times where we are struggling to survive through a global pandemic, one big giant is fighting with another, wasting time over a burger. Our focus should be connecting and supporting each other rather than filing a lawsuit. How silly is that?”. 

The sentiment of these words resonated with me. Although the saga continues to make headlines, we can all agree it’s a bit ridiculous. Feeling energised by this fresh perspective, I fully expected to read on and find that Rashays was planning to do something meaningful with its newfound platform. Like announcing that it was donating burgers to food banks or raising money through burger sales to support the hospitality industry, which has been hit hard this year. 

But the only announcement to follow was what they put in their special sauce. Now I don’t have beef with Rashays, however, I couldn’t help but notice the irony in this. Here they were calling out two “big giants” for squabbling over a burger and challenging them to do better, but what were they doing? To me, it looked like they were capitalising on the burger wars and not putting their meaning where their mouth is.

In this article, Dr. Martina Olbertova, founder and chief executive at Meaning.Global said that: “meaning is the only thing worthwhile for brands to create as it is what your customers will consume”. She also talked about the four key meaning gaps – the symbolic disconnect between reality and fiction – that brands need to close in 2020; The Culture Gap, The Context Gap, The Trust Gap and The Social Impact Gap.

In this example, what Rashays needs to close is The Trust Gap. This is the gap between what brands say and what they do. Olbertova uses the now-famous example of State Street Global Advisors. The company launched the much-praised Fearless Girl statue, but was later fined $5m for not paying women and minorities as much as men. 

While this is an extreme illustration of the point compared to Rashays, brands must understand that in today’s world, words alone will not win. There must be actions to deliver on the brand’s values.

It was a bold move by Rashays to enter the fast feud, but somewhat half-cooked. All, however, is not lost. Wanting to connect and support each other through this time of hardship is a great purpose, and it really speaks to one of the basic human values - benevolence. If this is a core value of the brand, it can be used to engage with customers that share the same value and make a connection between the brand and its audience.

While the battle of the ‘Bigs’ rages on, my tip is for brands to look for opportunities to create meaning by understanding the values of their customers. Don’t miss an opportunity to connect with your audience, and don’t bring a pickle to a bun fight.

Words by Senior Brand Leader, Jade Glashoff

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