I used to mildly like Burger King in the US. It was a distant also-ran to favorite Taco Bell and runner-up Wendy’s, but I enjoyed my occasional whopper and onion rings. I tried it in Romania as well and found it uninspiring, with a vapid staff and indifferent atmosphere. I now read that they are insolvent and will be closing their last two premises this week. I’m sorry, but not surprised. Why? Here’s my take:
1. They didn’t advertise. Or at least not properly.
The goal of advertising for a food outlet should be, initially, to generate trial, assuming that the quality and value for money of the food, and the level of service (staff, waiting times, cleanliness) will create a positive impression and convince customers to return. However, that initial impression will not generate return visits over periods of time, and simply being available alongside other options in a mall or high street location will not remind customers to choose this chain over others, who make themselves aggressively more familiar. Where KFC and McDonald’s have developed a presence in the Romanian lingo (“Mergem la Mec? Am chef de niste crispy de la Ka Fe Ce”) Burger King didn’t. Where the nation recognizes the golden arches and hums along to “I’m loving it”, no such quick and easy brand icons exist for Burger King. Whatever advertising the chain put in place was either insufficient or not memorable, and therefore did not deliver traffic, stimulate trial, or generate notoriety. In brief clichés, Burger King didn’t get into the top-of-mind, so it didn’t get the out-of-pocket.
2. They didn’t differentiate.
Some people might say it’s a corollary of lack of advertising, but given the chain’s location mostly in food courts, with their inbuilt traffic, I’d say they could have played the differentiation game even without advertising outside those premises. While the lack of advertising made customers ignore/forget there is a BK, the lack of differentiation meant customers saw no reason to go there. I, who’ve spent the better part of the last 4 years in malls and their food-courts, marketing cinemas and opening stores, and checking places for our promo materials, have, despite that exposure, yet to figure out why I should choose Burger King. What is the dish that makes it worthwhile? Why choose their burger (Whopper) as opposed to the Big Mac? What is there that I can’t find elsewhere? Mind you, the product line in and of itself is different, but it is not communicated as such, and the consumers see no reason for choosing BK.
3. Fast-food is taking a hit, globally.
Rising commodity prices, the slow-food movement, health conscious consumers, numerous substitutes and the economic crisis have all affected the consumers’ willingness and ability to purchase and consume fast food. And, as logic would have it, the most vulnerable are the less established (understood as the least entrenched in the collective mind and habit), which is, sadly, the case for BK, the latest big chain to enter the Romanian market, and the one with the smallest number of stores.