McDonald's (MCD) took plenty of flak years ago for its super-size meals. But Microsoft's (MSFT) strategy for building buzz in Japan gives new meaning to the term. Beginning on Oct. 22, to mark the launch of its Windows 7 in Japan, Microsoft has teamed up with Burger King (BKC) on a limited-offer burger: the Windows 7 Whopper.
The seven-patty burger weighs more than 791 grams (1.4 lb.) and stands about 12.7 centimeters (5 inches) tall. At 2,120 calories, it's more than just a quick snack, easily exceeding the 2,000-calorie daily diet recommended by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The promotion was originally supposed to last seven days, but it's been such a hit that the fast-food chain has extended it for nine more days. "We were surprised that it's been so popular," says Burger King's spokeswoman Nozomi Nagumo.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., approached Burger King's Japan unit to explore a tie-in that would coincide with the Windows 7 release. The idea was to reach out to a non-techie audience that might not be aware that Microsoft had revamped its operating software, Microsoft spokesman Masaki Iida says. For Burger King, which reopened in Japan in mid-2007 after a temporary pullout, this was a chance to piggyback on Microsoft's brand. The fast-food chain says the special Whopper is the biggest burger it has ever marketed. Neither company would reveal the cost of the campaign.
The campaign has come in for scathing ridicule from some techies (many of whom don't cut Microsoft much slack under the best of circumstances). Critics contend that the 7-paddy, 2,120-calorie monster is an apt symbol of past bloated Windows products. "It blows my mind that some marketing guru would think that slapping the Windows 7 name onto a seven patty burger would improve the Windows image," wrote Matt Burns, on tech blog Crunch Gear. "It's a tower of cardiac arrest."
Selling Like Hot Cakes? Nonetheless, sales have been strong. Burger King sells the first 30 burgers at every store in Japan for 777 yen ($8.45); after that, the price jumps to 1,450 yen ($15.75). In just the first two days of the promotion, the company's stores sold 1,700 burgers. Two days later, the count reached 6,000. (The majority of customers were paying the higher price.) For several days at a Tokyo shop, the Windows 7 Whopper accounted for one in every three orders.
The success of the campaign is evident in the blogosphere and on YouTube, where videos show people grabbing the burger with both hands and trying to bite through all seven patties. In one video, a man repeatedly draws attention to a pool of grease forming on the wrapper he eats over. Burger King's Nagumo says staff members were told to ask customers if they needed a fork.
The crush of publicity is a welcome change for Miami-based Burger King, which has struggled for visibility since reentering the Japanese market in June 2007. The company withdrew in 2001 after losing a price war with McDonald's. Its return was part of a global expansion to new markets such as Egypt, Hong Kong, and Poland. By next March, Burger King plans to add five new stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area, raising its store count to 20, says spokeswoman Nagumo. That's nowhere near the 3,754 stores in Japan of rival McDonald's.
Larger Than Life Meals in Japan are usually pint-size, which explains why big burgers tend to attract a lot of attention. McDonald's introduced its limited-offer MegaMac, featuring four beef patties, in 2007. Last November, McDonald's launched a stealth-marketing campaign for the Quarter Pounder, which has been on the menu in U.S. stores for decades but had never been offered in Japan. That campaign centered around two restaurants in Tokyo's hip Shibuya and Omotesando shopping areas that were marked only by a "Quarter Pounder" sign outside. During the pre-launch, customers could only order a single or double Quarter Pounder meal; now it's a staple on all McDonald's menus.
Burger King's collaboration with Microsoft wasn't the biggest burger the chain had ever sold in Japan. "One group ordered a 20-patty Whopper for a friend's 20th birthday," says spokeswoman Nagumo.
Microsoft's Iida stresses that the Whopper isn't the focus of its Windows 7 marketing. Besides ads, the tech giant filled a showroom in Tokyo's Akihabara district—a hub for electronics, anime, and manga shops—with dozens of new computers made by Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Acer, Sony (SNE), Toshiba, and others for the two days starting on Oct. 22. Microsoft staffers were on hand to give demonstrations of the PC operating system's latest features. And in keeping with the numerical theme, Ultra Seven, a giant Japanese superhero from outer space that protects the earth from aliens and monsters, made a guest appearance.