McDonald's wins the latest "Game of Chicken," while KFC is left holding their "Cup of Fries," Burger King customers are left holding their "French Fry Burger," and Buffalo Wild Wings waits for "March Madness."
It must be a tough life for CMOs that want to distinguish their careers by beating McDonald's at their own game, but the playing field is even and competitors fail to see the opportunities that McDonald's sees.
What's going in the game of chicken wings?
First and foremost, other QSR chains were caught napping as everyone assumed that wing promotions were locked up for the 2014 Super Bowl run and March Madness. Furthermore, they concluded that the "normal sized wing" supply was committed in supplier contracts. But McDonald's saw things differently through another set of glasses. McDonald's recognized the industry trend to larger and more economical bird sizes — a principle that has already shown up in non-wing chicken products. This meant that a wing supply was available for the taking.
Second, McDonald's recognized an opportunity to market this available wing supply during the months leading up to the Super Bowl and March Madness.
Third, McDonald's recognized an opportunity to brand their large wings and grow product value. Branded wings represented a concept most other QSR chains have failed to do. And with another stroke of genius, McDonald's selected a powerful brand name "Mighty Wings." Now they have a product and brand to market for years to come.
Fourth, McDonald's has made a science out of suggestive selling the Mighty Wings at the service counter and drive-thru windows. I purchase a $1 cup of coffee every afternoon at McDonalds, and the person working the drive-thru has never failed to suggestive sell Mighty Wings — no matter what city I am traveling in.
And fifth, Mighty Wings continues McDonald's long running chicken product leadership with Chicken McNuggets and Chicken Sandwiches, which eclipse hamburgers. To me this communicates "Marketing Innovation Leadership" in the QSR industry that sorely lacks new product innovation.
Back to KFC and Burger King
What could the marketing departments of these two large organizations possibly be thinking when they chose to compete against McDonalds Mighty Wings with a "Cup of Fries" and "Reworked Fries?" In hindsight, any large QSR chain could have accomplished what McDonald's has — but they haven't!
New England Patriots Innovation Motivation
My motivation for this blog was a back page story in the Wall Street Journal Oct. 16 titled "How to Make a Tight End Disappear." It's another story about how New England Patriots' Coach Bill Belichick continues to see around opposing team defenses. Sounds like a concept a few QSR CEOs should ponder.
For more information on our 2014 Food Innovation Workshops across the U.S., or to volunteer your company as a host site, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-471-1443.
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFCs development team of Popcorn Chicken, now a $1B international product invented by Gene Gagliardi.