Chick-fil-A, a private company with about 1,380 restaurants in 37 states and the District of Columbia, says that it is the second-largest quick-serve chicken chain (KFC is largest), but that it does not have the marketing resources to retaliate directly.
“We really encouraged the stores, ‘Don’t even waste time working on pushing back on McDonald’s; you’ve got more important battles,’ ” Mr. Perry said.
The franchisees have been watching McDonald’s test the product over the last two years in 2,000 stores. But Chick-fil-A was focused on its own new menu effort, a line of healthy foods (more salads, among other things) that was announced on Monday.
“We’re very proactive with the media,” said Steve A. Robinson, the chief marketing officer for Chick-fil-A, but “we have very limited budgets” for advertising. The focus of the national marketing is on college-sports sponsorships like the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and these efforts do not get going until the fall, he said.
“Why would we not pointedly come back and try to communicate something about Chick-fil-A versus McDonald’s?” Mr. Robinson said. “The answer is we simply do not have the media resources to get into that contest. We’re not going there.”
At least one Chick-fil-A franchisee could not resist a swipe. Arthur Greeno of Tulsa, Okla., saw a billboard near one of his franchises — and near a McDonald’s — and found out it was available on May 15. For that day, he posted the message: “Trade in Any ½ Eaten Copied Sandwich and Get the Original Meal Free at Chick-fil-A.”
Mr. Greeno said about 50 or 60 sandwiches were exchanged.
“They said, ‘Don’t spend any of your time focusing on it,’ and I wouldn’t have, but to be honest this opportunity kind of fell in my lap,” he said.
At McDonald’s, the May 15 promotion was a bit less successful than expected: the company had estimated it would give away eight million sandwiches, but the actual figures came to two million biscuits and a little over five million sandwiches, said Ms. Fearon, the marketing director.
“In the northern part of the country, they may not be used to eating chicken at breakfast or chicken without a lot of toppings on it,” she said. “So we had a very large effort to promote this product with a sampling.”
As for the ads, the mass-market spots talk about the juiciness and simplicity of the chicken. Others, aimed at African-Americans, are “grounded in this notion of their upbringing and their memories of Southern-style chicken,” Ms. Fearon said. Those for the Hispanic market are mainly in Spanish, while ads for Asian consumers are running in Korean, Mandarin Chinese and a Tamil-English mix called Tanglish.
DDB Chicago, part of the DDB Worldwide unit of the Omnicom Group, created the general consumer ads; Burrell Communications did ads for the African-American market; Alma DDB (also part of Omnicom), the ads for the Hispanic market; and IW Group (part of the Interpublic Group of Companies) the ads for the Asian-American market.
McDonald’s is not the only chain starting to embrace the Southern-style sandwich. Not long ago, many quick-serve restaurants rushed to add wrap sandwiches to their menus in rapid succession; now the same thing seems to be happening with Southern-style chicken.
Arby’s announced in March that it would offer its Southern Style Chicken at two for $4 as a limited-time menu item; soon after, Hardee’s said it would roll out its Chicken Fillet Biscuit nationwide.
“The fastest-growing food over the last 10 years in the restaurant industry has been fried chicken sandwiches,” Harry Balzer, who researches the food industry for the NPD Group, said.
Analysts gave the new McDonald’s sandwich positive reviews in both taste and sales potential.
“We like the flavor and portion size” of the new product “and think that it may be the closest offering we have seen to Chick-fil-A’s signature chicken sandwich, which we consider to be a leader,” Jeffrey Omohundro, a senior analyst for Wachovia Capital Markets, wrote in a recent report.