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10 Wild Promotions by Fast Food Restaurants

by George Wilson
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Quick service restaurant (QSR) is an industry term for chain restaurants that prioritize speed and low cost as their selling points. We in the real world know them as something else: fast food. Not only that, but we also associate them with other, less flattering characteristics like low quality, unhealthy options, and a last resort. Comedian Bill Burr once said that these restaurants are for two people: kids and drunk people.

Much like the term QSR, these restaurants are constantly looking for ways to rebrand themselves and distance themselves from the stigma that comes with the term “fast food.” This list will detail some of the ways these fast food restaurants have attempted to break the mold (or fully embrace it) in order to reach a wider consumer base.

Related: Top 10 Half-baked Sales Promotions That Ended In Disaster

10 McDonald’s Art Posters

What Triggered the McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce Craze

This promotion has a bit of lore to it. Back in 1998, McDonald’s released a Szechuan dipping sauce for their chicken nuggets as a promotion for the Disney film Mulan. The promotion came and went, and then nearly two decades later, in April 2017, an episode of the animated show Rick and Morty aired that prominently featured the long-forgotten dipping sauce. The popularity of the show with people on the internet caused the old promotion to go viral, with people physically going to their local McDonald’s to demand the sauce. Eventually, McDonald’s bought in and released the sauce for a limited time.

Seeing how people were “obsauced” (their words, not mine) with the Szechuan dipping sauce, McDonald’s created a promotion for their new Buttermilk Crispy Tenders that utilized the dipping sauces as the highlight. The popular chain partnered with Delicious Design League to create a series of posters that “captured the essence” of nine available sauces: Honey, Honey Mustard, Creamy Ranch, Signature, Buffalo, Hot Mustard, Sriracha Mac Sauce, Sweet and Sour, and Tangy Barbeque. The designs were actually a lot more interesting than I thought they would be and included one for the Szechuan sauce. While they are no longer available for purchase, you can still find them on eBay for some ridiculously high prices.[1]

9 Einstein Bros. Bagels Wake-Up Tones

Fully Unwrapped – Einstein Bros. Bagels

If you’re like me, waking up in the morning can be a struggle. But if you’re also like me, food is a big motivator. Einstein Bros. Bagels recognized that a lot of people fit into the center of that Venn diagram and devised a promotion around it. To help all of us get up on the right side of the bed, Einstein Bros. created wake-up tones that are downloadable as an mp3 to get you up and ready for the most important meal of the day. The wake-up tones included bacon sizzling, coffee brewing, eggs frying, and a rooster crowing. Furthermore, upon downloading these delicious tones, you would receive a voucher for a free egg sandwich!

I’m going to be honest here: This sounds like a way for a megacorporation to subliminally control the masses or create sleeper cells. Download these tones and get a free egg sandwich. What could be the harm in that? Now, use those tones as an alarm clock to motivate you to get up and eat our delicious food every day. Sure, nothing suspicious there. Unfortunately, the site to download the tones is no longer up, so it cannot be confirmed whether or not the tones contained mind-controlling material. Convenient.[2]

8 Taco Bell Fashion Show with Forever 21

BUZZ AXS | Forever 21 x Taco Bell Full Fashion Show

Call me crazy, but Taco Bell and fashion aren’t two things I often associate with each other. Instead, my mind goes to late nights, guilty pleasures, and regret the following day. So it is a bit of a surprise to find out that in 2017, Taco Bell teamed up with Forever 21 to create a unique fashion line. It was then debuted at a late-night fashion show featuring a DJ, fan-submitted modeling, and two models who went viral for taking their senior photos at Taco Bell.

Apparently, this clothing line was a huge success, with a lot of the products selling out quite quickly. While the concepts and designs are pretty cool, these outfits are definitely for fit, young people (i.e., not me) and not for the guy pulling up at midnight in stained sweatpants ready to dig into some crunchwraps (i.e., me).[3]

7 Burger King Whopper Severance

Burger King Gives Free Whopper to Fired Employees – Blues Break Stories (EP 120)

Fair warning: you’re going to see Burger King pop up in this list a few times. They are one of those examples of a QSR fully embracing their fast food identity and just weirding it up with some really bizarre campaigns (does anyone remember the video game they made?).

The first promotion we’re looking at is the Whopper Severance Package. Burger King was offering a free Whopper to anyone who admitted to being fired from their job. “Getting fired might not be fun, but at Burger King restaurants, getting fired like the flame-grilled Whopper sandwich is always a good thing,” their PR statement proclaims. Okay, that pun was a bit of a stretch, but it is an interesting way to bring in new workers. Sure, you got fired, but now you get a free Whopper, and you might as well fill out this job application while you’re here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why not just lie and get the free Whopper? Well, the way this works is that you have to announce that you’ve been fired over Linkedin with the proper hashtags, and then Burger King will send you a link to a voucher that you can then bring to your local Burger King. The best part is that even their press release states that Linkedin isn’t a part of the promotion. I’m sure they were pleased.[4]

6 Paving for Pizza

Domino’s Paving for Pizza project hits the City of Jackson

This might be the most wholesome campaign on this list. After receiving numerous complaints from customers that their pizzas had been delivered severely damaged, Domino’s conducted some research. After placing cameras in their pizza boxes while drivers were out on the road, they got to see exactly what happened to the pizzas and found that damaged roads led to damaged pizzas. This led to Domino’s creating its Paving for Pizzas campaign with the slogan “bad roads shouldn’t happen to good pizza.”

With Paving for Pizzas, Domino’s planned to provide grants to municipalities to fix their roads so that their customers would receive the pristine pies they deserved. Customers simply had to submit their zip code, and whichever zip codes received the most submissions would be chosen for the campaign. Domino’s would then approach the representatives of the municipalities with a $5,000 grant along with Domino’s brand road signs and stencils. The campaign quickly reached its goal of 50 towns in 50 states, and the Paving for Pizza site has plenty of photos and stories detailing the success.

This campaign is actually really smart, and it helped a lot of communities. Also, what a great way to get some marketing research on where your largest customer bases are located from the submitted zip codes. Now, if only I liked their pizzas…[5]

5 Burger King’s Nightmare King

The Science of BK’s Nightmare King Burger | Inverse

While the previous campaign might have been wholesome, this one is diabolical. This burger was released just in time for Halloween of 2018 and was comprised of a 1/4 beef patty, crispy chicken fillet, melted American cheese, thick-cut bacon, mayonnaise, and onions topped with a green glazed bun. While the sandwich certainly looks like a nightmare, there is actually a more nefarious purpose to this concoction. Burger King claims that this burger will give you nightmares.

Burger King actually partnered with sleep specialists to gather scientific evidence to prove their claim. The study was conducted on 100 individuals over a span of 10 nights. The somnologists concluded that a person was 3.5 times more likely to experience nightmares after eating the Nightmare King, with participants describing nightmares like morphing into a snake or being attacked by aliens while on a boat. The scientists hypothesize that the unique mixture of proteins and cheese led to an interruption in the REM cycle, resulting in the nightmares.

It seems that Burger King was so caught up in figuring out if they could do something that they never thought about if they should actually do it. As far as I’m concerned, Burger King is up there with Einstein Bros. regarding questionable intentions. I mean, Domino’s is over here fixing potholes while Burger King is trying to give people nightmares. Unfortunately, I could not find anyone including their dreams in their review of the sandwich, which seems like a real missed opportunity on Burger King’s part. Could you imagine them creating a curated blog on their site with customer-submitted nightmares?[6]

4 The Arby’s Marrot

Arby’s is often seen as the bottom of the barrel, even by fast food standards. What you see is what you get with Arby’s, which is even reflected in their slogan, “we have the meats.” Arby’s clearly takes that slogan very seriously with this gimmick. A growing trend in the QSR industry is developing plant-based options for vegans and vegetarians. When asked about this, an Arby’s rep stated that it is impossible that Arby’s will follow that trend.

In fact, to further prove they have the meats, Arby’s has decided to combat the plant-based trend by creating the megetable. Pronounced like “vegetable” but with an “m,” the megetable is a pseudo-vegetable created from meat. Their first and only entry is the marrot, which, if you haven’t caught on to the pattern, is a meat carrot. Made from turkey breast, the marrot looks and surprisingly tastes a lot like an actual carrot. It even contains 30 grams of protein and 70% of your recommended daily dose of vitamin A, making it as healthy as a vegetable. Ironically, the one way the marrot fails is in the texture compared to a carrot—which is actually a common criticism of most plant-based imitation meat.

While the marrot is not available at Arby’s yet, they have created a recipe video so you can make your very own marrots at home! Furthermore, they indicate that they look forward to creating more megetables and may even include them on menus in the future. PETA might think Arby’s is stuck in the Stone Age, but Arby’s knows its reputation and has decided to play to that perception. Soon you may be able to find your healthy meat-based alternatives at your local Arby’s![7]

3 Carl’s Jr. Rocky Mountain High Burger

Eating Carl’s Jr CBD Oiled Infused Burger 4/20 | Rocky Mountain High Burger

Jumping on the trends at the right time is key to the success of QSR franchises, and Carl’s Jr. definitely chose the right time and place with this burger. Released in Denver and named after a song by John Denver, Carl’s junior revealed that on 4/20/2019, they would release their CBD-infused burger.

The burger featured two patties: Santa Fe sauce infused with locally sourced CBD, pickled jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, and Crisscut fries. The CBD burgers sold very well, and Carl’s Jr. is considering making it a more regular menu item. “It’s one day, one location; I’m here, might as well,” stated a customer, and honestly, that is the type of reaction I’d expect from someone interested in this burger. Much like Arby’s, Carl’s Jr. is playing up to the stereotype that fast food and Colorado bring.[8]

2 KFC’s Recipe for Seduction

KFC’s Lifetime Movie Is Finger Lickin’ Bad! A Recipe for Seduction Explained

It’s not a stretch to say that Kentucky Fried Chicken’s reputation rivals that of Arby’s. I mean, they created a menu item that is just a bowl with all their offerings mixed together for people who have just given up. Yet, despite all that, they hold a special place on many people’s palates under the guise of “comfort food.” In the digital age, comfort food has expanded beyond just describing what we eat; it also includes the media we consume.

In this way, KFC teaming up with Lifetime to make a holiday romance film makes so much sense. Recipe for Seduction is a Lifetime original short film starring the hunky Mario Lopez as Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame. In the short film, the Colonel becomes a live-in chef for a financially struggling influential family and strikes up a romance with the daughter. Naturally, the mother does not approve and schemes to tear them apart while also stealing the Colonel’s secret fried chicken recipe that he dreams will change the world.

The film premiered on Lifetime on December 13, 2020. To increase the experience of viewing the short film, KFC also provided six free crispy tenders on Uber Eats orders of $20 or more. While tongue-in-cheek, reviews of the film were mostly favorable, except for one reviewer who accurately stated: “Simply another example of how corporate advertising continues to overtly commandeer everyday spaces like film and social media.”

That being said, the film ended on a cliffhanger, and I’m waiting for the sequel.[9]

1 GarfieldEATS

What is GarfieldEATS? (and why would anyone do this to us)

“In 40 years, no one has ever come to me with such a crazy idea like GarfieldEATS, the world’s 1st entergaging Garfield’s quick mobile restaurant app,” says Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield. I couldn’t agree more. GarfieldEATS is a QMR (quick mobile restaurant), meaning that the restaurant is actually a delivery service app that you download on your mobile device. When you download the app, you can order items like a Garfield-shaped pizza, lasagna (duh), garfuccinos (Garfield cappuccino), and smoothies to have delivered to you.

Jim Davis’s quote included the word “entergaging,” and you might be wondering what that means. Well, it’s a portmanteau of entertaining and engaging. He uses this term because while waiting for your order, you can use the GarfieldEATS app to watch clips of the Garfield and Friends TV show, play games, and talk to other Garfield fans. In doing so, you can earn “paws,” which can then be turned into goupons (not Groupons!).

GarfieldEATS has opened in a few cities around the world, including Dubai and Toronto. While Garfield is known for his orange fur, GarfieldEATS prides itself on being green, with food delivered on electric scooters and in reusable packaging. The meme-ification of the famous cat has added a lot to the allure of this business venture. Still, you have to admit that this is a very ambitious project, and the founder, Nathan Mazri, has the full confidence of the Garfield licensers.

Unfortunately, steep prices, inconsistent quality, bugs in the app, and the pandemic all played a role in the downfall of the company, and it is with a heavy heart that I must say that as of 2021, the GarfieldEATS website has been taken down. Nathan Mazri often used the famous Garfield quote, “Love me, feed me, never leave me,” and I can’t help but feel like we have failed him.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen