Words By Carmen Macri and Ambar Ramirez
Even if you say you don’t, we all love fast food. The question is: how much do you really know about these fast food giants?
With Thanksgiving coming around the corner, we know cooking a feast for a family of 10 can be a drag. Luckily we live in America where there is a Mcdonald’s around every corner. And a Wendys, and a Taco Bell, and a Burger King, and a KFC… You get the point.
But as times change, these companies change with us (or at least they try to). From menu changes to mascots, these fast-food giants are always looking for new ways to please the masses.
In order to regain its influence on kids and families, Mcdonald’s came out with the well-known happy meals during the 1970s. While the McFamily at the time was not on board with targeting children with this new marketing tactic, it proved successful. Getting a toy with a happy meal became an essential element of the McMenu, so much so that Mcdonald’s developed into one of the largest toy distributors in the country. And now, 52 years later, the popular junk food icon is taking a trip back in time.
Just like it did back in the 70s when the company was facing strong competition and low revenue, it had to bring attention back to itself by including toys in artistically styled boxes, turning the attention away from the food and towards creativity. Partnering with the rising apparel company, Cactus Flea Market, Mcdonald’s recently added “Adult” Happy Meals to the menu. While the adult happy meals don’t include a Ronald McDonald with french fries as pubes, it does include a selection of nostalgic, limited-edition toys. Including a new member of the McCast, Cactus Buddy, in an ode to Cactus Flea Market. The appeal of these “adult” toys (not to be confused with “adult toys”) that display old-timey McDonald characters like Grimace, The Hamburglar, and Birdie, isn’t about making toys for adults, but more so a fresh marketing tactic. A way for the aged company to regain its appeal with a younger generation that is into streetwear and collectibles.
Still, it seems that the fast-food chain will do anything to bury its past, but there’s no forgetting the video we all watched in school explaining the “ingredients” that went into making the famous McNuggets (Beaks and feet, we were told.) Exploiting children in their ads, frying supposedly vegetarian-friendly fries in meat oil, claiming its food is healthier than it is, the list of McScandals is long and kind of scary. Remember the 2004 documentary “SuperSize Me” where filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald’s for 30 days… straight. Still, the (gross) facts revealed about the large chain didn’t stop people from consuming their products. And it didn’t stop the company from continuously falling into some McSticky situations.
An ad released in the early 2000s showed a sneaky Ronald McDonald leaving Burger King with a bag full of Whoppers. And later, Burger King was found guilty of mimicking the Big Mac, fueling the 60-year-long feud between these two fast-food powerhouses.
It is ingrained in our earliest memories; The creepy king. (What is up with that?) Burger King has quite an interesting take on marketing strategies, one being to make their audience squirm in their seats. Much like Ronald McDonald, the king was everywhere. In late-night commercials slithering across the floor, staring at you through a ring doorbell, or hiding in someone’s bed… (Seriously.)
Struggling to keep up with the hype of Mcdonald’s, Burger King began falling far behind, until Pillsbury bought the company for $18 million dollars in 1970. With the home of the giggling doughboy behind them, Burger King was able to grow into America’s second-largest burger chain. (Ouch.)
Burger King did not let that discourage them though! If they couldn’t be number one for burgers, they’d be number one for scandals.
Back in 2013, the U.K food industry was shell-shocked after it had been revealed that certain beef food contained traces of horse meat. The supplier, Silvercrest Foods plant, had sold “100% beef” that was actually 78% beef- and 29% horse meat… Yum! Silvercrest just so happened to be Burger King’s supplier. Obviously, they took immediate action. But that didn’t stop them from getting dragged on social media. They copied the Happy Meal with a very short-lived promotion called The Real Meal which included the Blue Meal, Salty Meal, Yaaas Meal, and DGAF Meal with the tagline “No one is happy all the time, and that’s OK.” Great message, but not a great marketing tactic. People quickly picked up on the fact it was a dig at McDonald’s.
From claiming their Impossible Whopper was vegan (it wasn’t) to Tweeting “Women belong in the kitchen,” Burger King is not afraid to piss off the public.
Cue the burger chain sex wars. In the early 2000s, Hardees and Burger King had a marketing competition on who could create the most explicit ad and get away with it. They do say that sex sells which is probably why one of the oldest fast-food chains started to gear its ads in a (dare I say) naughty approach.
Back in 2020, Krystal had to file for bankruptcy in response to low revenue and high competition. Instead of completely closing down stores and leaving the past in the past, the old-school eatery signed a multi-level deal with rapper 2 Chainz to get sales rolling. And what better way to kick off the interesting partnership than with a new menu item that hints at Gen Z slang?
Their recently released 15-second long ad ends with social media influencer, Brittany Renner saying, “Keep your main thing if you want, we just wanna be your side chick”. Considering that 2 Chainz doesn’t eat beef or pork, it makes perfect sense that the first menu item to be added with the new head of Creative Marketing is the Side Chik sandwiches. Still, it makes us wonder if the fast-food sex wars aren’t over.
Even the seemingly innocent chains have some sort of dark history. Founded by Dave Thomas, the fast-food restaurant named after the youngest of his four daughters, Melinda Lou Wendy, is unsuspecting. I mean, who could think of anything wicked related to the red-haired pigtail icon? But her Twitter persona is ruthless…
In 2018 Wendy’s had Twitter in a chokehold. Everyone was tuning in to the savage tweets Wendy’s would post. Whether it was calling out the other fast-food giants or roasting their followers. (They asked for it.) When Wendy’s took to Twitter, it quickly became everyone’s favorite Twitter account. Hosting “roasts” for anyone who would comment under the hashtag #NationalRoastDay.
Or the iconic response tweet to McDonald’s when they posted “Today we’ve announced that by mid-2018 all Quarter Pounder burgers at the majority of our restaurants will be cooked with fresh beef.” To which Wendy’s responded “So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.” The tweet went viral.
As we all know, Twitter can be a dangerous place. Wendy’s might have flown too close to the sun. With their Twitter popularity rising, it makes the fall that much harder. During the Trump campaign, it was revealed that the CEO of Wendy’s parent company had donated $440,000 to the campaign… which did not sit well with Twitter. (For obvious reasons)
Of course, we can’t go into depth about all the fast-food scandals (you’re safe for now Taco Bell), but we also can’t end without talking about the infamous Kentucky Fried Chicken, better known as KFC.
Allegedly, the good ole Colonel Sanders, founder of the fried-chicken chain, was a racist. And that’s not even the worst of it. The company has been accused of serving cross-contaminated food, expired meat, and fried paper towels all while promoting its “Its finger-lickin’ good” slogan. KFC has tried to cover up these scandals by selling supposedly fresh grilled-chicken buckets and fire logs that will make your campfire smell like their very own fried mutant chickens.
We know that all this isn’t gonna change your mind about waiting in those long drive-through lines (especially after a long night out). But hopefully, if anything, this information will make you think twice before scarfing down on those 20-piece chicken nuggets at 2 AM.