It seems like a lifetime ago, that innocent time before the Chicken Wars. Walking down the street, I spotted a metrolite poster at a bus stop. Innocently (oh, how innocently!), I began to form a stupid question: “What is TenderCrisp?”
I’m a big fan of those buzzwords that encapsulate everything absurd about marketing, but TenderCrisp is an especially canny trademark, juggling two contradictory qualities of tenderness and crispness while not actually promising any particular cut of meat or technique of preparation and cooking. Not since McDonald’s trademarked the name “100% Australian Beef” have consumers witnessed such masterly ambiguity.
But there’s another fast food catchphrase these days: “100% Chicken Breast Fillet”. Perhaps because consumers see chicken as a ‘healthier’ meal option, every fast food chain is jumping on this feathery bandwagon. Welcome to the Chicken Wars.
With its 11 secret herbs and spices, KFC is a seasoned campaigner. Here’s how Colonel Sanders’s longstanding Australian ad agency, Singleton Ogilvy & Mather, hoped to demonstrate both the freshness of the chicken and the presence of cooks in every store. No frozen chooks for the Colonel!
Like McDonald’s “Facts” campaign and Coca-Cola’s recent (and notorious) “Myths Busted” campaign, it’s a rather defensive execution that’s ripe for consumer backlash – and there’s plenty of that in YouTube comments. But it’s also a disconcertingly grown-up vision of fast food. No greasy food-prep teenagers bunging drumsticks in deep fryers, no cheesy grins at the register, but a firm, schoolmarmish cook wielding a wire tray that makes the chicken pieces look like cookies fresh from the oven.
Tone-wise, it’s a real about-face from the all-singing, all-dancing “Fresh Is Best” TVC from 2007.
Which, in turn, is a poor imitation of the delirious masterwork produced by McDonald’s in 1986 to advertise its McDLT burger, a shameless grab at Burger King’s market share. McDonald’s clearly comprehended the basic truth that an absurd product benefit deserves a really absurd TV commercial featuring Jason Alexander and the cast of Cats:
Advertising Age reported at the time that McDonald’s was spending a heady USD$5.5 million (in 1986 money) on advertising every week. (Imagine how irritating Jason Alexander’s jazz hands and West Side Story leaps would have become after a month or so.) It boosted McDonald’s sales by between 2% and 5% as people tried the new burger, but ultimately no amount of window-dressing could save this bizarre folly.
These days, McDonald’s is strutting into the chook market with a new range of “seared” chicken products from wraps to salads, with an ad campaign by DDB. Not grilled. Not fried. Seared.
I love the way the guy goes, “Chicken!” in a ridiculous voice, for no reason other than the sheer appreciation of his impending meal. It’s not the work of sublime viral advertising that “Bacon Bacon Bacon” was, but the tone is just right – people always say these silly little things to themselves and to their friends.
At the Sydney media launch, McDonald’s Australia managing director Catriona Noble noted that in blind taste tests with competing products, consumers preferred its chicken, which is marinated in 12 spices. Oh, burn! That’s one more than 11!
She also said that since McDonald’s had put chicken on the menu, it attracted more new customers and even more repeat visits. Noble says the chain is on track to double its sales of chicken products to $600 million by 2010, but she denies it’s a grab for KFC’s customers, saying McDonald’s is merely diversifying its product range.
Over at McDonald’s New Zealand, where seared chicken has been on sale since March, managing director Mark Hawthorne is rather more cocky. “We’re quite open about the fact that we are actively taking on KFC with this chicken launch – we want to be the number one seller of chicken in three years,” he says.
“Additionally, McDonald’s use of an oil that is low in saturated fat and virtually trans-fat free gives us an edge over our competitors, many of whom are still cooking their chicken in high-saturated fat oil.”
More to the point, McDonald’s “100% chicken breast fillet” – there’s that term again – is “cooked to perfection on a hotplate”. This brings us back to the maddening question of Hungry Jack’s TenderCrisp. Here’s how MJW Advertising is pitching Uncle Hungry’s mystery meat:
Really disappointing work. This hazy road-crossing rhetoric only reveals that chickens are involved somehow. Would I cross the road for this ad? Nup. I called Stephanie Smith from MJW for comment, but didn’t hear back before deadline, leaving me to wonder what on God’s tender, crispy earth is TenderCrisp?
To get some straight answers I went straight to the self-proclaimed monarch of all things burger: I called Hungry Jack’s Victorian headquarters. I was put through to Rebecca, who told me straight up what TenderCrisp was.
“It’s covered in breadcrumbs and then grilled,” explained Rebecca.
“So, is it like a schnitzel?”
“Well, no, it’s smaller than a schnitzel… Hang on, can I put you on hold for a minute?”
Pretty soon Rebecca was back with the news that TenderCrisp was made from – you guessed it – “100% chicken breast fillet”.
“Um, what are your other chicken burgers made of?”
“They’re a combination.” Of what? The mind boggles.
“So, is TenderCrisp just a name that Hungry Jack’s has made up?”I asked.
“Yeah, basically,” said Rebecca.
Next in Chicken Wars: The Portuguese Front. With the big three riding their tails, how are niche providers Oporto and Nandoâ€™s advertising their chicken?
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