In 2020, we've simply seen a lot of things we never thought we'd see. I was scanning football games – pro and college – this past weekend, and I still can't get my head around seeing a “normal” game on the field surrounded by miles and miles of empty seats.
But that's the story, thanks to COVID. Entire industries have been torched – like Uber and Lyft, for example. They were riding high back in February. Now the only people comfortable climbing in the back seat of a car driven by a stranger are those who will do pretty much anything to avoid taking mass transit.
As the lockdown began, it also looked like the car rental platform would be in serious trouble. But over time, it has showed signs of recovery, especially among people who'd rather not take a train, subway, or bus.
The concert business is in shambles, the casino industry is hurting, as of course are the airlines who have limited their capacity and amped up their health and safety measures because of pandemic fears.
It's been a tough run for restaurants, too, whether we're talking fine dining establishments or fast food franchises. In both cases, food and service industry workers are in a world of hurt. But so are franchise owners – the folks who typically had economy-proof businesses that are now on much thinner ice.
Interestingly, fast food customers are a loyal bunch. There are fans of Mickey D's, devotees of Burger King, partisans of KFC, and of course, P1s for Taco Bell. It doesn't mean they won't cross party lines to visit a competitive franchise brand. But the contests and games, price cutting, and feature offers are all designed to try to move diners from one brand to the other.
Until now, that is.
BoredPanda's Neringa Utaraitė writes, Burger King in the UK is using social media to encourage customers to patronize other fast food chains, including arch rivals, McDonald's. The campaign started as the country was on the verge of another lockdown, thanks to the pandemic. Some saw Burger King's olive branch as a way to remind locals to dine in or carry out at fast food restaurants – any fast food restaurant.
You may recall the famous Christmas movie, Miracle On 34th Street where Macy's department store Santa – aka Kris Kringle – actively sent customers across the street to competitor Gimbel's to buy toys his store didn't stock. That gesture went as viral as anything could in 1947.
Now, here we are 70 years later, and fast food restaurants are employing the same highly unusual tactic:
We know, we never thought we’d be saying this either. pic.twitter.com/cVRMSLSDq6
— Burger King (@BurgerKingUK) November 2, 2020
An honest appeal to help save fast food restaurants? A paper-thin publicity stunt? On Twitter, of course, opinions, humor, and conspiracy theories ran the gamut.
No matter. The message exploded on Twitter, bringing much-needed attention to a service industry ravaged by the pandemic. It also brought some humor, some controversy, some “oh wow's,” and a few “c'mon man's.” But it generated talk for a beleaguered food category that like a lot of us, is having a rough 2020, including this attention-grabbling rendering by the Edmonton News' Courtney Theriault:
Maybe the plight of the UK's fast food eateries brings to mind what broadcast radio has endured even before there was a virus. While the RAB, Westwood One, and other players have launched numerous campaigns over the years to remind media buyers and agency planners to consider advertising on radio, no such messages have reached the media consuming public.
What about the listeners? The people who give their most precious commodity – TIME? That's what generates that cume and quarter-hours.
While every radio might profess a spirit of collegiality toward their competitors up and down the dial, it's a veneer. The truth is that every radio company marches to the beat of its own drummer. While this is, in fact, the “American Way,” there comes a time when competitors with common enemies, challenges, and opportunities are compelled to act in a way that shines the light on radio – with a capital “R.”
There have been exceptions. Chicago radio has pulled off some unique cooperative “road blocks” to make the point that, yes, we're all in this together over the past few years. But they are anomalies.
Perhaps it is unrealistic – especially here in the States – for radio broadcasters to celebrate a “kumbaya moment” – and let the medium shine. But we're at this precarious point on the curve when radio celebrates its 100th birthday in a country that couldn't be even more divided.
Based on many of the responses to Burger King's sleight of hand in the UK, that's the way many Brits saw it, too.
Our culture – whether in the UK, the US, or pretty much anywhere in the world – has become fragmented, splintered, and tribal.
But broadcast radio – especially in local markets – has an important story to tell about variety, diversity, and entertainment and information that's available FREE to everyone. It's the ultimate democratized medium, still going strong one long century later.
Cynics will scoff at this idealized, rosy notion, either claiming that radio lost its magical powers years ago due to downsized budgets or top-down programming.
Somehow, the medium has marshalled on, through world wars, pandemics, economic meltdowns, and tech revolutions. To this day, it features music that spans genres, timely information that's “breaking” or thoughtful, inspirational moments during tough times, and companionship from trusted personalities. Everything's changed, but nothing's changed.
The fact is that the medium continues to prove its mettle everyday, whether it has been COVID coverage, fundraising initiatives, or the ability to make us feel a little more normal during a time that's anything but.
So, have a burger, fries, and a soda. From wherever you like.
And while you're at it, turn on the radio.