How Burger King ‘Forked’ McDonald’s

“Good morning McDonald’s.  We come in peace. We’d like to propose a one-off collaboration between Burger King and McDonald’s to create something special — something that gets the world talking about Peace Day. The McWhopper.”

The savvy folks at Burger King took out full page ads in the NY Times and Chicago Tribune, running an “open letter to McDonald’s.” The letter went on to propose the two fast food giants blend “the best bits of the Whopper and Big Mac” to form the ultimate burger for peace.  Burger King proposed setting up a temporary store in Atlanta (half way between McDonald’s Chicago headquarters and Burger King’s HQ in Miami) on September 21, also known as Peace Day. All proceeds would be donated to support the cause.

The ad was clever and fun, challenging McDonald’s to “end the beef” between the two companies. “We know this is a lot to swallow,” the ad continued, so please visit for more info. Check out the site. Pure brilliance.


Let’s unpack this strategy. BK leads the effort and gains extraordinary free exposure as dozens of major media outlets pick up the story. Burger King appears as the clever one, generating million of dollars of buzz. If McDonald’s agrees, they are the follower and the ongoing attention would all be in BK’s favor. If McDonald’s declines, they look backward and grumpy. All in the name of “peace.”

In the game of chess, this strategy is called a Knight Fork. The knight can attack multiple squares at once, so if an opponent positions her knight to attack two of your pieces simultaneously, any move you make is a bad one. It is a lose-lose.  Here, BK was able to deliver a “gotcha” because any way McDonald’s responded would make them look foolish.

Steve Easterbrook, McD’s CEO, wrote back and declined the challenge while appearing out of touch and stodgy. Checkmate.

BK kept the move alive, opening up the challenge to Denny’s and four other competitors, who all played along. Now, the media is covering these fun mash-up burgers while BK is enjoying tremendous brand lift. McDonald’s sits alone in the corner, licking its wounds.

As you craft your own competitive strategy, look for opportunities to trap adversaries in a Knight Fork. While it takes some creativity to get there, a fork can advance your cause while setting the enemy back.

Too often, we run our businesses and careers in reactionary mode, simply responding to the daily challenges. Grandmaster chess players think several moves down the board, and often lure their opponents into traps. Take the time to look beyond the daily fires and craft a strategy that your competition won’t even see coming.

Try out the Knight Fork and savor the delicious taste of victory. Extra sauce, hold the pickles.

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