October 31, 2016

How Burger King won (and once lost) Halloween

Certain dates on the calendar are circled by marketers every year. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, Memorial Day or July 4th – brands constantly battle for consumer attention online.

Halloween, on the other hand, is an event that takes place mostly in the real world (remember that place?) replete with neighbors, doorbells, and sugar highs.

So then which QSR owns Halloween? And is it even worth owning? Burger King provides an interesting case study on how to own Halloween the wrong way (last year), and how to do it correctly (this year).

Check out the chart below from SIGNUM for Restaurants. Clearly, Burger King was the dominant restaurant when it came to its customers talking about Halloween in 2015.

Burger King Halloween LTO Data

One needn’t dig deep to figure out why so many QSR customer conversations included Burger King. The answer is the infamous Halloween Whopper, an LTO introduced by BK in October of last year.

The Halloween Whopper featured a black bun, which folks thought was a nod to witchcraft and other related dark arts. But apparently the bun’s color change was rather a bi-product of A.1. Sauce added to conjure Halloween heartiness.

"While the pitch-black bun gives the Halloween Whopper sandwich a look that may make some think 'hmmmmm?' the burger's classic A.1. flavors will have tasters saying 'mmmmm,'" said Burger King at the time.

Independent of the tangled reasoning, the Halloween Whopper was something of a flop, albeit for unforeseen scatological reasons. In other words, people who ate it reported green poops from medical causes we won’t delve into here.


Fast forward to 2016, and Burger King wins Halloween in a very different way. Out with the questionable culinary LTO, in with the awesome idea to dress up a store in a McDonalds costume!


The stunt was staged at a single location in Queens, NYC, but Burger King corporate is definitely in on the joke. The chain posted the video of the "Scariest BK" on its YouTube channel, and confirmed the high jinks were coordinated by its David ad agency in Miami.

The success is plain to see in Quantifind's SIGNUM for Restaurants; this time BK won the right way, via positive momentum with organic conversation.

Burger King Wins Halloween 2016

Chipotle and Papa John's performed well because they're offering straight Halloween discounts. No goblins or food dye; just savings passed on to consumers.

There are some interesting takeaways here for food brands:

1. There are indeed opportunities to own – and benefit from – Halloween. It's not a super competitive holiday on the calendar.

2. If your brand doesn’t specialize in dessert or coffee, it's extremely difficult to introduce a Halloween-themed food item. Something about savory burgers, fries, and tacos just doesn’t mesh with ghosts and candy corn.

3. Therefore, the answer is to get creative and celebrate the spirit of Halloween with a stunt that plays well on online. Or go with a straight discount that has little to do with the holiday itself.