Fast Food Marketing Flubs

fast food
Credit: Fast food marketing image via Shutterstock
Marketing and advertising expenses make up a huge part of most fast food companies' marketing budgets. But things don't always go as planned. Sometimes even the best-laid marketing plans go wrong. Here's a few of our favorite fast food marketing flubs.

The Burger King

fast food marketing, Burger King
Credit: Burger King
Creeping out the customers is rarely a marketer's intention when rolling out a new campaign.

But that's just what happened when Burger King tried turning its mascot into the next Ronald McDonald.

In 2003, the fast food giant unveiled a characterized Burger King, complete with a giant plastic crown-topped head, that diners immediately deemed peculiar and unnerving. The commercials, which featured the silent King peeping in windows and walking unwelcomed into homes, only amped up the disturbing factor.

After six quarters of declining sales and a failure to close the gap on its main competitor, McDonald's, the fast food chain eventually sent the King packing in 2011.

KFC Teams Up With Oprah

Kentucky Fried Chicken, fast food pr, marketing
Colonel Sanders and the rest of the folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken learned the power of Oprah the hard way.

To help launch its new grilled chicken in 2009, KFC announced on Oprah Winfrey's show that customers could print out a coupon for a free two-piece meal with all the trimmings. Millions of coupon-wielding people flocked to their local KFC expecting free chicken. Stores were unable to keep up with the demand, and KFC was forced to call off the promotion – prompting a number of fights.

"The lines of customers wanting to redeem their coupons have been out the door and around the block, so we're unable to redeem customer coupons at this time," said Roger Eaton, president of KFC in the United States.

KFC ended up offering customers a rain check for a future meal instead.

McDonald's Twitter Campaign

Credit: McDonald's
Earlier this year, McDonald's discovered just how wrong a social media promotion can go.

The fast food powerhouse launched a Twitter campaign encouraging customers to share their favorite stories about the restaurant while using the hashtag #McDStories.

Execs had hoped to elicit fond memories, but the campaign backfired in minutes when customers began posting stories of fingernails in food, the restaurant's use of pig meat, and food poisoning.

The fast food giant pulled the hashtag after just two hours.

"With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger," said Rick Wion, McDonald's social media director. "As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences."

Paula Deen

Paula Deen, marketing, diabetes
Building your career on teaching people how to cook high-fat diets and then abruptly switching gears to promote diabetes medicine doesn't do much for your image, as celebrity chef Paula Deen is figuring out.

The Food Network host, known for advocating the use of excess butter, announced in January that she was suffering from Type 2 diabetes, a condition that can be partly blamed on obesity. She drew the most ire when she revealed at the same time that she would be benefiting from her condition by promoting drugmaker Novo Nordisk's online program, Diabetes in a New Light.

While Deen said she was donating some of the money from her work to the American Diabetes Association, she has received harsh criticism from the public, other celebrity chefs and even her own PR team. Shortly after Deen came clean on her diabetes and promotional work, her publicist of six years, Nancy Assuncao, quit.

"Although we had a great deal of fun along the way, I could not agree with the new business strategy going forward," Assuncao told the New York Post.

Derrick Rose and McDonald's

NBA, fast food pr, marketing
Even being the National Basketball Association's reigning MVP doesn't keep you from being criticized, especially when a free hamburger is at stake.

Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose received a rare booing from his home crowd recently after failing to connect on either of two free throws that would have given the Bulls 100 points. Through a promotion with McDonald's, everyone attending a Bulls game gets a free Big Mac when the home team reaches the century mark. Though Rose led his team to victory, it was his two missed free throws with less than five seconds remaining that kept the score at 99-95 and sent the crowd home feeling deprived of a sandwich.

Following the game, Rose likened his failure to Will Ferrell's character in the movie "Semi-Pro." In the film, Ferrell plays an owner-coach who tries to stop a corndog giveaway.

"That's all I was thinking about, man," Rose told "I saved McDonald's a lot of money, so they should be happy."

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.