Just the two of us: why competitor collaboration is a win-win for both brands

Disclaimer: personally, I believe the best burgers come from cosy pubs and mom-and-pop restaurants. Google ‘Muddbones’ in Bonham, Texas – you will not be disappointed!

However, I do enjoy the ‘rivalry’ between two of the leading burger chains, McDonalds and Burger King. Not least because it confirms my long-held suspicion – that proposing a partnership with a competitor can be a great idea. It certainly worked for Burger King. Let’s go back to 2015…


• 8.9 billion media impressions
• $220m earned media
• 40% increase in Peace Day awareness

Now that I have your attention, let me explain the partnership. To mark World Peace Day in September, Burger King proposed a peace treaty with McDonald’s. After decades of competition, a collaboration to create a ‘McWhopper’ was on the table. It would be available for one day only at a pop-up in Atlanta (equal distance between McDonald’s and Burger King’s respective headquarters), with all proceeds going to charity. With advertisements in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and a dedicated website for the campaign, what did Burger King have to lose?

Here is McDonald’s reply, via chief executive, Steve Easterbrook.

Regardless of the above reply, as the stats show, it was still a success for Burger King for even suggesting the temporary truce. Here’s a video with all the campaign highlights.

To me, this campaign was a success, but it did something more: it proved that engaging and, dare I say, inviting a competitor brand on your side of the fence can and does work. Here are four reasons why I think this is a great idea:

1. Finding a common ground speaks volumes for your customers

When done authentically; identifying and tapping into causes, topics and current issues that your customers care about can show that your brand is interested in more than just the almighty spend.

This can help to build stronger brand foundations and links between brand and consumer. If executed well, earned engagement and loyalty will follow. Just make sure you’re consistent across all channels and have a plan for long-term involvement with the chosen cause, beyond just collaborating with another brand.

2. Joining forces with a market disrupter means you are evenly matched

At the time of the campaign, Burger King was number two, so teaming up with number one meant that, for a limited time, Burger King was evenly matched with McDonalds. This creates the perfect formula for success i.e. their loyal followers + your loyal followers = maximum exposure and engagement. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but you aren’t the only brand that your customers use! By leveraging this temporary partnership, you widen your net and possibly bring a few customers over to your side of the fence too.

3. Creating a USP through a shared or complimentary technology pays off

Putting burgers aside for a second, let’s think about how competing car manufacturers could benefit from a collaboration. Volkswagen, Mercedes, Ford and BMW have teamed up to create universal charging stations for electric vehicles. Imagine the initial pushback when the idea of ‘collaborating with a competitor’ did the rounds. There’s a reason the phrase ‘two heads are better than one’ continues to stand true. By looking beyond your bottom line, you can widen the road for future success because let’s be honest, there’s room on the road for both you and your competitor.

4. Learning why your competitor is successful reveals more than numbers

If you were competing in a race, would you want to go up against someone slower or faster? For those who chose the former, congrats on your short-term win. If you chose the latter, you might be on to something. Here’s another way of thinking about it: if you are number two in the market, you wouldn’t want to work alongside number five in the market. It would confirm that you are more successful, yes, but that’s all it would do. However, by working alongside number one, you are saying internally, as well as externally, that you are worthy and capable of running alongside the best.

Like Sun Tzu and Michael Corleone said, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Now, go win that race.

Written by:

Barry Bell


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