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Why Did A&W’s Third Pound Burger Flop?
When people crave a burger, they typically want it with a side of fries, not a math equation.
In the 1980s, fast-food chain A&W decided to go head-to-head with McDonald’s Quarter Pounder by unveiling its own numerically-named hamburger — the Third Pound Burger.
The sandwich was slightly larger in size but was offered at the same price as the Quarter Pounder. It even outperformed the Quarter Pounder in blind taste tests. A&W marketers pushed these two facts hard in their “Third is the Word” advertising campaign, and anticipated big sales considering the burger’s larger size.
However, the Third Pound Burger completely flopped, and A&W discontinued the product shortly after its launch. A&W’s then-owner A. Alfred Taubman was dumbfounded. Why would consumers choose to buy a smaller burger for the same price of his third-pound patty?
Through focus groups and market research, A&W discovered the shocking reason for the burger’s failure – most participants thought one-third of a pound was actually smaller than one-fourth. In other words, consumers failed to understand the math and mistakenly thought they were buying less meat for the same price.
A Numbers Game
Despite having the larger, better-tasting burger, A&W failed to account for the way consumers would interpret their sales messages. They overestimated the public’s willingness and ability to do the math, no matter how simple it was. As a result, their message was misconstrued and the burger failed.
Product specifications and performance metrics have a role to play in any well-rounded market strategy. These statistics can elevate messages and add credibility. But as A&W learned, these figures can fail to resonate and sometimes be misinterpreted by your target audience, especially when they’re too complicated.
Research shows people remember stories, not statistics. Businesses seeking greater sales must consider more than their product specifications or the defining features of their services by focusing on their corporate story, brand identity and public image.