Final Four: Choosing the Champion of Our Fast Food Marketing Madness Bracket

You may have noticed fast-food marketing has grown increasingly weird in recent years. That weirdness was on full display in the month of March when a number of top fast food chains took “March Madness” to a whole new level with their marketing efforts.

With a tip of the hat to college basketball and the big dance, we decided to create our own bracket featuring some unusual marketing efforts from fast-food brands over the past month. We’ve got a lot of flame-broiled battles and Big-Mac-sized decisions to make, so let’s jump right in…

The Contenders: The Final Four of Fast-Food Marketing

Which fast-food chain’s bizarre March marketing offering earned them a spot in our bracket? Let’s meet the contenders:

Contender #1: Taco Bell Routine Republic Short Film

This video is set in an alternate dystopian society where everyone is forced to eat Egg McMuffins for breakfast. At least, that’s what we think they are. While they never really name McDonald’s in the video, they do depict a scary clown dictator. The video shows how two “breakfast defectors” escape this drab world and find a place where happy people eat Taco Bell crunch wraps.

Taco Bell Routine Republic

Contender #2: McDonald’s Big Mac Lifestyle Collection

This is a line of merchandise with McDonald’s signature burger stamped on them—including clothing, bed sheets, and wallpaper (boots and dog clothes are listed as coming soon). All the items are pretty simple, just a bunch of burgers on a white background. The collection was launched in Sweden, as part of “imlovinit24″, a 24-hour McDonald’s marketing extravaganza.

Big Mac Lifestyle Collection

Contender #3: Burger King’s Whopper Scented Cologne

Have you ever wanted to smell like fast food? C’mon, you know you have. And Burger King knows it too. That’s why they released cologne that smells like the Whopper. How many times can you show a sandwich in an ad before it becomes white noise? What better way to get people talking than with a limited-edition cologne that allows you to smell like cooked meat.

Burger King Whopper Cologne

Contender #4: Popeyes Chicken Red Stick Staredown App

This app was created by Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to promote the chain’s limited-time Red Stick Chicken, which is marinated in Tabasco pepper. The app uses facial recognition technology to let you have a staring contest with a virtual chicken. If you can go without blinking or moving longer than the chicken, you win. What do you win? Bragging rights over the virtual chicken.

Popeyes Red Stick Staredown App

Those are our final four fast-food contenders. Now let’s get the bracket…

Battle #1: Taco Bell vs. McDonald’s

Taco Bell: Typically it’s not a great idea to go after a competitor directly because you take the attention away from yourself. But the Taco Bell short film mostly hits the right tone. It seems on target for the intended Millennial audience with its “Hunger Games” look. They’re trying to break into the breakfast market and the video does a good job drawing attention to that.

McDonald’s: There’s some novelty appeal to the Big Mac Lifestyle Collection. You could see a hipster grabbing a hoodie; or buying your spouse a set of Big Mac sheets as a joke. So there’s a little something there. But not much. This is part of a one-day marketing effort and it shows. If they really committed and designed more interesting items, this would’ve been a lot better.

The Winner: Taco Bell

The Big Mac Lifestyle Collection is just a gimmick without much substance behind it. The Taco Bell Routine Republic film is well put together and delivers a strong message. So Taco Bell advances, taking down its breakfast rival McDonald’s.

Routine Republic

Battle #2: Burger King vs. Popeyes

Burger King: As far as novelties go, the Burger King Cologne is more interesting than the Big Mac Lifestyle Collection for a few reasons: (1) We really want to know what it smells like. (2) It’d be a fun conversation piece to have on your desk. (3). If it smells really good, it could make people crave Whoppers uncontrollably.

Popeyes: The Red Stick Staredown app is better than expected. It’s simple and fun. And it seems to have a decent replay factor, which could be good for brand awareness and grabbing a young audience. But where are the prizes? There should be a way to win Red Stick chicken coupons by achieving a high score. Why not use the app to get people in the store?

The Winner: Popeyes

Both stunts attach themselves to signature products. But the Whopper Cologne has pretty limited appeal. Though its needs some improvements, the Red Stick Staredown gives you a little more to work with from a marketing perspective.

Popeyes Red Stick Staredown App

Final Battle: Taco Bell vs. Popeyes

Popeyes: A good mobile app can be a huge branding boost. Especially if people return to it time and time again. While the Popeyes Red Stick Staredown app is fine, the marketing effort behind isn’t quite fully developed. But the potential is there. With some tweaks and adjustments, this could be a more engaging app and a more effective marketing campaign.

Taco Bell: The Routine Republic short film does a great job of creating a world where breakfast is boring, and introducing Taco Bell as an alternate breakfast option. The one area where this video fails a little bit though is in selling the product. Once the video arrives in the alternate breakfast world of crunch wraps, it oddly kind of falls flat.

This is ultimately a battle of what’s there now versus what could be. The Taco Bell video messaging is stronger and more developed in its current form. But the Popeyes app has more potential marketing power moving forward. So which effort wins the bracket?

The Champion: Popeyes

In the end, the potential for long-term marketing glory wins the day. Popeyes has a great base in place for what could be a powerful marketing campaign. So the underdog Popeyes takes down Taco Bell in the final showdown to win our Fast Food Marketing Madness bracket.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Want more on this topic?

Hear our in-depth discussion of the all the battles in this bracket by listening to Episode 37 of the Speaking Human podcast now.