Battle of Burgerdom: Jack & Carl & Ronald & The King

These may not be the mascots you're looking for. Beware of their beef. (via

Fast food’s impact on pop culture is as large as any industry’s, and like the chains themselves, their advertising is everywhere.  Burger joints – in particular, McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and Jack in the Box – compete for our eyeballs, and stomachs, with a ferocity similar to that of the beer guys.  With the exception of McDonald’s, who plays heavily on the emotional aspect of stuffing your face with their food, humor is the weapon of choice for these burger men.  So, who does the best job of busting our fat guts?  Great question, glad you asked.

McDonald’s: Let’s start with Micky D’s, the industry behemoth, who despite having an equally colossal marketing budget, has had roughly one memorable TV spot in the last two decades.  Remember when Bird challenged Jordan to a game of HORSE way back in the 90s?  Of course!  We all do.  (It’s OK if you don’t, just click the link for a refresher… Done? Cool.)  Ever since people stopped saying “it’s the 90s,” we’ve seen a mess of bland, trying-too-hard and annoying spewed from the Golden Arches across US airwaves.  Except for this kid – he’s cool.  Hey Ronald, we know you want us all to feel warm and cuddly about your contributions to Americana (e.g., Big Macs and Happy Meals), but please don’t give the rest of the world all of the heartwarming stuff.

Carl’s Jr.: Perhaps not as ubiquitous as other apostrophe chains (next time, Wendy’s), Carl’s Jr., aka Hardee’s in certain regions, deserves to be included for two reasons: Their unusually sloppy food and the I-don’t-know-what-inflection-is voice over guy.  You can spot a Carl’s Jr. ad from either the minimally-dressed woman eating a messy burger (sexy, but not very funny), or the dumb and/or lazy common man eating a messy burger (not very sexy, but funnier).  Throughout it all, bringing the ruckus is, of course, the same distinguished voice over.  He absolutely nails the uninspired and uninterested angle, and despite putting images of this sloppy face in our mind, Junior’s campaigns have stuck around.  These otherwise deadly offenses are nullified by one great ad that I can’t seem to forget (or find a link to anywhere).  A guy trying to make guacamole stands by watching as a whole avocado bounces around inside an ineffective blender.  The tag reads, “Without us, some guys would starve.”  It was funny.  Maybe you’ll just to have to take my word for it.

Jack in the Box: Jack has always fascinated me.  And made me laugh.  Your mascot is a suit-wearing CEO, topped with a clownish head, who talks in a normal voice with a painted-on mouth that switches between 🙂 and :|?  I prefer not to type in emoticons, but that is good stuff.  Over the years since his return, Jack has been busy touting breakfast, value deals and fancy, foreign-named sandwiches.  For a company that faced a deadly E. coli breakout in the early 90s, Jack in the Box has come a long way.  Teamed with partner Secret Weapon Marketing – whose founder and creative director provides the voice of Jack, or at least sounds a lot like him – the chain has created a pop culture icon in their TV spokesman.  The irreverent humor of the ads is a near guaranteed hit every time, even (especially?) if it involves a possible bondage fantasy between Jack and the Mrs.  Note: A joke about Jack’s dad and his “uplifting” pills may cause consumers to equate your food with E.D.  Proceed with caution.

Burger King: In the seven or so years since Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) has taken over as BK’s agency, the chain has moved to the forefront of elaborate, outlandish advertising.  CP+B’s first, and most important, move was bringing back the King in all his plastic, grinning glory.  Whether he’s scaring the bejeezus out of you with breakfast in bed or spinning phat beats for square butts, Burger King’s return of the King is the best thing to happen for them since sliced croissants.  His Highness has been embraced by a core audience, as indicated by his staying power, despite understandably giving some people the willies.  Other notable campaigns include a massive tie-in with The Simpsons Movie release along with a handy Simpsonize Me website, and the magnificent musical return of Darius “Hootie” Rucker, infused with a little Brooke Burke and a dash of Vida Guerra’s caboose.  Wielding a propensity for giving the spotlight to pop culture personas – royalty or non – Burger King has certainly made its mark.

Winner? Jack over the King by a nose.  We prefer spokespeople who speak, not just creep.

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