Burger King, Budweiser Dropping Brand Weight; Wendy's, Coors Gaining

PHOTO: Wendys restaurant

In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the reusable space plane that takes Dr. Haywood Floyd to the space station, the Orion III, was branded with a Pan Am logo. That seemed a safe bet as the international carrier was the nation's largest in 1968 when the film was shot.

Tragically, Pan American Airlines didn't make it to 2001. The airline went belly up in 1991, a decade before its supposed rendezvous with the future. It was probably unthinkable to a writer in the late 60's to believe the largest company representing the most progressive travel mode would barely last a generation. Through our deep recession and our slow recovery there are a number of venerable brand names like Kodak and Sears on the ropes but there are other big shifts happening across the big brand-name landscape. None as significant and surprising as Coors Light which is poised to unseat Budweiser as the number two brand behind Bud Light and fast food restaurant Wendy's passing Burger King as the number two fast food chain behind McDonalds. Why are so many well-known brands losing ground?

For Wendy's and Burger King the past five years have been tumultuous. Obesity concerns, the recession and the slow pace of improvement in the U.S. economy have taken their toll. When you add the management changes and internal issues both have faced, it is no wonder that McDonalds with its consistent advertising and marketing strategy, low costs and strong supply chain lead both by a wide margin.

But Burger King before now has always managed to stay ahead of Wendy's. Wendy's has long been regarded as somewhat quirky with its square burgers and a weak menu of side items. But last year, the chain all of a sudden got more focused retooling its buns and burgers to be more conventional, introducing new fries with sea salt, making its salads…well…salads and resurrecting its very successful "Where's The Beef" advertising campaign.

Burger King, on the other hand, after a management change, banishing the increasingly unpopular Burger King and a change in its advertising agency seems to be struggling to define itself. Both Wendy's and Burger King have stated they are focusing on the food, but Wendy's change is significant and unmistakable while Burger King seems to be trying to convince us and themselves that the food we are familiar with is somehow different and that what we didn't understand is how much care they take in preparing it. I'm not sure consumers are buying that explanation. So now, after last year's dollars are all tallied up and accounted for, Wendy's despite having nearly 1,400 fewer stores is expected to have earned more than $53 million more than Burger King with an increase of 1.1 percent to Burger King's 3.9 percent decline.

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