MCD'S WHOPPER BATTLESUPER BOWL-BOUND FANS TOUT 95 BIG MAC

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McDonald's Corp.'s football fanatics are on the march to the Super Bowl, with new commercials and even live appearances planned as the top fast-food chain wages a pricing war with Burger King Corp.

Sources close to McDonald's say the two football fans will make several live appearances for the chain during upcoming playoff games and the Jan. 29 Super Bowl inMiami, touting among other things the new 95› Big Mac.

That burger takes on Burger King's 99› Whopper, which helped drive 6% same-store sales gains over the past several months.

"Our estimate for McDonald's same-store sales growth is that it has slowed," said Steven Rockwell, analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons, Baltimore. "It's hard to say if that's a result of the Whopper pricing or if it's just that same-store sales growth at McDonald's had been strong for so long.

"BK certainly has been helped by the `Lion King' promotion and by their attempt to provide greater value."

McDonald's current spot shows the football fan characters eating at a McDonald's on their way to Miami to watch the Super Bowl. Ads in coming weeks will follow their journey. The two men are also set to make a pre-game appearance on Turner Network Television's Super Bowl TV show.

McDonald's reportedly hasn't yet decided whether to use the characters in paid Super Bowl spots, during which it plans to launch the new tagline, "Have you had your break today?" from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

Despite the new theme line, McDonald's strategy will remain value-focused. The fast-feeder is investing $30 million in media buys to broadcast its new Big Mac pricing.

"When McDonald's is on the TV every night talking about price, it takes the fast-food wars to a new level," said Ron Paul, president of restaurant consultancy Technomic, Chicago. "Now McDonald's is there at the under $1 price point against Burger King, Taco Bell, Shoney's and everybody else."

McDonald's network TV advertising has intensified in recent weeks as the marketer shifted most of its local spot-buying funds into national buys.

Burger King began selling its 99 cents Whopper as a promotion last fall but stuck to the pricing when customers responded.

If McDonald's makes the 95 cents Big Mac permanent, it may irk some franchisees, already stung by corporate moves to standardize Extra Value Meals at $2.99 and drastically decrease local spot-TV buying.

"The 95 cents price is only down 5 cents from their two-for-$2 promotion last year," said Douglas Christopher, an analyst with Crowell, Weedon & Co., San Francisco. "McDonald's has taken significant costs out of their system in the past few years; they've shown they can profitably run a promotion like this."

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