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IN A PICKLE: WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM BUNFIGHTS BETWEEN BURGER BRANDS

Belinda Seeney

Director of Content

Two all-big companies, special counsel, legal teams in a pickle, infringements served in a sledge-and-sue bunfight.

It was the supersized burger battle that made national headlines in 2020.

It started when Hungry Jack’s, the master Australian franchise of the global Burger King Corporation, launched its new Big Jack burger in July.

The following month, multinational McDonald’s took its competitor to Federal Court, claiming the Big Jack infringed its famous Big Mac trademark.

What followed was a witty tit-for-tat as Hungry Jack’s clapped back with a savage multi-channel campaign across paid, social, earned and owned media.

While Macca’s battled it out in courtrooms and lawyers’ offices, HJ’s waged a war to win public attention and affection.

This was not an accidental or unplanned campaign, this was a bold and deliberate strategy on Hungry Jack’s part to gain and leverage publicity and position.

Neither was it the first time an Australian burger chain had deliberately poked the big-name burger bear to capitalise on the publicity a lawsuit would invariably generate.

Aruga client Burger Urge, notorious for its daring, made-you-look marketing and PR stunts and topically-titled gourmet burgers, launched its BIG PAC burger in October 2018.

Trumpeting the product’s two all-alpaca meat patties, sauce, cheese, pickles, lettuce, onion on a sesame bun, Aruga worked with Burger Urge to calculate, plan and execute the cheeky campaign with precision.

At the time, Burger Urger Managing Director Sean Carthew said: “Apart from being delicious, the BIG PAC is a big middle finger to the big players who have been serving Australians crap food for as long as we can remember. By using premium ingredients, and doing things a little differently, the era of boring and unhealthy burgers is over.”

Yes, it was a ballsy move but it wasn’t reckless.

Burger Urge embraces bold and daring creative campaigns and it bravely and confidently sees PR stunts through to completion but it also has the smarts to know it must prepare for all eventualities, plan contingencies and workshop responses and counter-responses.

Which is why it came as zero surprise when McDonald’s slapped the Brisbane-founded company with a cease-and-desist order within days.

Burger Urge and its PR agency, Aruga, were ready to pounce, working together to whip up support across social and traditional media.

Thousands of Facebook users weighed in on the BIG PAC campaign from offering support and sharing posts to debating the ethics of eating alpaca meat.

On-brand messaging from Burger Urge, delivered in its inimitable cheeky tone, had strong media cut-through.

Mr Carthew’s carefully crafted statement was issued as soon as McDonald’s made their legal move and was picked up by media outlets nationally.

“We’re actually a bit perplexed by it all. Burger Urge is the only restaurant chain in Australia that serves alpaca burgers, so we don’t think anybody could possibly confuse us with McDonald’s. Unless that’s a part of their new “Peruvian Value Range?”

In addition to mass consumer awareness, impressive media coverage and social engagement, the calculated BIG PAC risk paid off in restaurant sales.

The boutique nature of alpaca meat – sourced in this instance from Illawarra Prime Alpaca in Berry, NSW – meant only a limited quantity was available.

Demand from customers, driven by the creative campaign, saw Burger Urge’s 25 stores sell out of the product before McDonald’s cease-and-desist deadline.

This gave Burger Urge a unique opportunity to control the narrative and have the final word when firing its parting shot.

“At the request of McDonald’s legal team, we will be pulling the BIG PAC from sale. We continue to maintain that nobody in their right mind could possibly confuse our premium alpaca burger with a McDonald’s product but we’re happy to capitulate in order to keep the peace. Moving forward, Burger Urge will continue to offer unique products, as we’re the industry leader in this regard.” 

Flamed, grilled and served.

If you’re ready to make a ballsy move of your own, we’ve got your back. For creative ideas, grounded in careful strategy, hit us up at hello@aruga.com.au. You’ve got this.