Ad Age-Harris surveys U.S. consumers on the updated packaging being introduced at the largest hamburger chains
McDonald’s and Burger King kicked off 2021 with new looks. While McDonald’s remains the market leader by a wide margin, an early survey shows Burger King’s fresh packaging design edging out an overhaul announced last week by McDonald’s.
Fifty-four percent of respondents said they preferred Burger King’s packaging, while 46% chose McDonald’s, according to an Ad Age-Harris Poll survey conducted this month. And 56% said Burger King’s new look made the food look more appetizing, while 44% picked McDonald’s as having the more appetizing design.
These kinds of design updates can take months, if not years, to hit restaurants. The good news for both chains is that the overhauls show signs of potentially helping sales: More than 40% of those who like the new looks presented by Burger King or McDonald’s say they are more likely to patronize the chains, according to the survey, which was conducted online Feb. 19-22 among 1,059 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.
“Fast food companies like McDonald’s and Burger King understand that the look and feel of a product, down to the packaging, shapes how consumers think about their brand and ultimately influences what their customers choose to buy,” Will Johnson, CEO of The Harris Poll, said in a statement. “We see in our data that the new packaging calls up nostalgia for some consumers and resonates especially with consumers in their 30s and 40s, who may draw connections between the retro-looking packaging and their childhood.”
Indeed, 16 consumers mentioned “retro” and five mentioned “nostalgic” or “nostalgia” when asked what Burger King’s packaging designs made them think of. And when asked about McDonald’s packaging, six people mentioned “retro” and five mentioned “nostalgic” or “nostalgia.”
Burger King was first out of the gate with its design introduced in January, which will eventually be splashed across everything from packaging to signage and uniforms. The look from Jones Knowles Ritchie plays on a design used by the Home of the Whopper in 1969. “It modernized the brand but also makes the brand even more classic,” Restaurant Brands International Global Chief Marketing Officer Fernando Machado told Ad Age at the time.
McDonald’s packaging overhaul unveiled this month was in the works for years and comes from Pearlfisher. It was described by Barbara Yehling, McDonald’s senior director of global menu strategy, as “bright, beautiful and modern new designs” that will be used on all McDonald’s packaging globally. “This move will help us unify our branding and create a more consistent customer experience in over 39,000 restaurants in 100 countries around the world,” she said in a statement.
The poll reveals some differences in how men and women perceive the design updates: Women are nearly evenly divided with 51% of women picking Burger King over McDonald’s. BK’s lead grows with men, with 57% of them preferring it.
One 35-year-old man said the BK design made him think “extremely appealing and perfect” and called the McDonald’s one “filling and refreshing.” A 28-year-old female respondent said the new Burger King design made her think of a “trendy restaurant like Shake Shack,” while the McDonald’s overhaul made her think of children’s books. A 35-year-old female called the Burger King look “old school” and said it reminded her of when she was a kid, “especially the crown.” What did she think about the new McDonald’s look? “It looks vintage. I really like it, but it doesn’t really look like McDonald’s,” she responded.
A 63-year-old female said Burger King’s new look made her think of “the groovy sixties” and felt McDonald’s was “clean and simple.” And a 66-year-old male had a question about Burger King’s look: “the more elaborate packaging looks good but does it make fast foods taste better?” As for the McDonald’s look, he shared “at least you don’t see as much Styrofoam as you used to.”
What’s key for both brands is that large numbers of consumers said they are more likely to buy their products: 48% of consumers who preferred Burger King’s new design said they’re more likely to buy its products. And 39% of that group said they were neither more likely nor less likely to do so. The findings were similar for McDonald’s design fans: 41% of those who preferred McDonald’s new design said they’re more likely to buy McDonald’s products, though 46% said they were neither more likely nor less likely to do so.
The impact on purchase consideration was most pronounced among consumers in the 35-44 age range: 66% of consumers in that group who preferred Burger King’s new design say they are more likely to buy its products, and 62% of those who preferred McDonald’s new look say they’re more likely to buy its products.
Design cues alone won’t boost Burger King to reach close to the scale that the Golden Arches holds. McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant company. Amid the downturn the entire sector experienced last year, its global systemwide sales fell 7%. Burger King’s global systemwide sales dropped 11.1% in 2020. There were 39,198 McDonald’s restaurants and 18,625 Burger King restaurants globally at the end of 2020.