Burger King Promotion FailMonday's Pizza Factory promotion fail reminded me about both good and bad business experiences. Often the proper solution to a business problem seems so obvious as a consumer, while remaining shrouded in mystery to the owner. As I commented on the Pizza Factory thread, I was reminded of a bad business decision I was forced to participate in years ago. The comment got so long, I've decided to create a post about it instead.

When I was a college freshman (1982–1983), I worked at the Burger King that used to be in Provo, Utah, near the BYU football stadium. The Burger King Corporation was running a huge “The Whopper Beats the Big Mac” promotion. With this nationwide promotion, the customer simply approached a cashier and proclaimed, “The Whopper beats the Big Mac.” (Psychological reinforcement!) The reward would be two Whoppers for the price of one.

The campaign was very successful and drove a ton of business to our store.

Being close to the stadium (and when the university still allowed outside food to be brought in), football game days were always huge business. We had to pull extra staff with someone to man every area just to feed the lines that went around the foyer, out the door, and onto the sidewalk. When a football game occurred during the middle of the the Whopper/Big Mac battle, our franchise owners decided not to honor the national campaign discount, thinking they would make more money refusing the two for one deal.

They used the (legal) out by noting that the national campaign's small print said it only applied to “participating dealers.” Now, of course, the Provo store was a “participating dealer”…most of the time. Just not when they didn't want to participate.

Game day came and we were flooded, as usual. The cashiers were instructed to take the awkward position that we were no longer a “participating dealer” in the national campaign, explaining to customer after customer that they could not get the discount, no matter how loudly they shouted out the awesomeness of Whoppers.

Some people ordered anyway, begrudgingly, because of time or transportation constraints. Some walked out. But all those who came in with the intent to take advantage of the offer were angry that it was denied.

Although I wasn't privy to the franchise books in my lowly position, I'm quite sure the decision did far more harm than good. Customers were angry, they felt cheated, they left — no pun intended — with a very bad taste in their mouths. Many declared they would never come back. I suspect they were true to their words.

In a service business, the customer is (burger) king.