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Burger King's Broadened Audience Target Pays Off in Sales Growth

Advertising, Limited-Time Offerings Produced Strong Results

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Burger King Worldwide reported stronger-than-expected sales results for the third quarter, increasing its U.S. and Canada sales by 1.6% over last year -- marking the third straight quarter of positive sales after a lengthy rough patch.

Global systemwide comparable sales were up 1.4%.

Sofia Vergara promotes an item as part of a Burger King menu expansion.
Sofia Vergara promotes an item as part of a Burger King menu expansion.

Steve Wiborg, exec VP and president-North America at Burger King said that "a key element of our strategy is to broaden the appeal of our advertising and bring a more diverse customer mix back into our restaurants."

For years Burger King had been primarily focused on appealing to young men, but the chain had been struggling in recent years, and its target audience was hit hard by tough economic times. He added that "the changing marketing strategy has been successful and Burger King's mix of both women and customers age 50 or older increased further in Q3 after initial improvements in Q2."

He also credited the chain's recent advertising, which focused on taste and promoted limited-time barbecue and chicken items, with differentiating Burger King from its competitors and helping boost sales through more premium products.

The chain did acknowledge that there was a bit of a deceleration in comparable sales growth because of difficult prior-year comparisons and the loss of some value-based traffic. Burger King executives did not speak about specific competition, but McDonald's has in recent months been promoting with national advertising its dollar menu items, such as the McDouble.

McDonald's, while still reporting positive sales gains, is also seeing a slowdown in growth. The chain recently reported U.S. same-store sales were up 1.2% in the quarter -- its slowest growth in nine years. McDonald's said at the time that it would put strong marketing support behind "value offers" while also pushing news around "premium menu" items.

Mr. Wiborg also said that Burger King is capitalizing capitalizing on the popularity of the brand through social media. "Our Facebook page reached nearly 6 million likes, without any investment in acquisition costs and we're beginning to explore promotional strategies that leverage the network effects of our fans who followed Burger King through these channels," he said.

Burger King is currently in the midst of having its roster of agencies and other outside shops pitch for its next big idea, something along the lines of its earlier and well-known "Have it your way" motto. A spokesman told Ad Age : "Agencies have been asked to pitch concepts which bring this positioning to life in new and unexpected ways."

The chain earlier this year unveiled what it called its biggest menu expansion ever, which includes salads, smoothies and wraps. The new menu was accompanied by an expensive ad campaign that featured celebrities such as Jay Leno and Mary J. Blige. Ms. Blige ad was pulled from the campaign after some criticized it for reinforcing African-American stereotypes.

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