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This Facebook post by 9gag.com makes the claim that customers of A&W thought that A&W's 1/3 pound burgers weighed less than McDonald's 1/4 pound burgers, and preferred to buy the McDonald's burgers due to them thinking that a 1/4 pound burger has more meat than a 1/3 pound burger.

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Was there ever such a customer focus group held by A&W, and did it reach the result described in the image?

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2 Answers 2

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The source of this image is an article in NY Times Magazine, the text of which (about a quarter down the page) is quoted exactly.

Kevin Drum, a blogger for MotherJones, tried to track down the source of this anecdote. He found a tweet by the article's author, Elizabeth Green, saying that she got it from "Threshold Resistance", the memoirs of Alfred Taubman, then-owner of A&W.

Reproducing the quote from that book that's on the MJ site:

Well, it turned out that customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks. Hands down, we had a better product. But there was a serious problem. More than half of the participants in the Yankelovich focus groups questioned the price of our burger. "Why," they asked, "should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald's? You're overcharging us." Honestly. People thought a third of a pound was less than a quarter of a pound. After all, three is less than four!

Since any actual data on the study performed is probably private data of A&W and the Yankelovich research group, we'll probably have to take Taubman at his word here.

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    This is as far as my research got too. I would take issue with Taubman's claim that "customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks." Most companies claim to have a superior product, and without reading his book, we can't know how this conclusion was reached. I imagine any "study" done by A&W is going to favor A&W.
    – Will
    Aug 13, 2015 at 18:11
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    You'd think they'd come out with a 1/5th burger. Aug 13, 2015 at 19:59
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    @BrianM.Hunt The McD's regular burger is a sixth pound patty. Obviously, they didn't have this problem when they dubbed their larger burger "the quarter pounder". I think Taubman is passing the buck. The product probably failed for legitimate business reasons. McD's is a tough competitor.
    – fredsbend
    Apr 2, 2020 at 20:13
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    "we'll probably have to take Taubman at his word here" -- I would be skeptical of his word here. He is hardly an unbiased observer. It was his company at the time. "The customers are too stupid to want our superior product" (paraphrased) is a bit too self-flattering. Apr 1, 2021 at 14:42
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    @fredsbend a regular McDonald's hamburger patty is 1.6 ounces, which is a tenth of a pound. (As with the 4-oz quarter pounder, this is the weight before cooking.) But, crucially, they never marketed it based on its fractional relationship to the pound. They never called it a tenth-pounder or a sixth-pounder or anything of the sort, so there was no reason for anyone to be confused.
    – phoog
    Apr 5, 2021 at 4:20
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From Mother Jones article:

UPDATE: Elizabeth Green tweets that her source for this anecdote is Threshold Resistance by Alfred Taubman, who owned A&W in the 80s. Here’s the relevant passage, after Taubman has called in Yankelovich, Skelly and White to figure out what was wrong with their burger:

"Well, it turned out that customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks. Hands down, we had a better product. But there was a serious problem. More than half of the participants in the Yankelovich focus groups questioned the price of our burger. “Why,” they asked, “should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s? You’re overcharging us.” Honestly. People thought a third of a pound was less than a quarter of a pound. After all, three is less than four!"

Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Ret Oct 13, 2009 by A. Alfred Taubman ISBN-13 : 978-0061235375

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    This doesn't seem to add anything to the existing answer.
    – Joe W
    Apr 1, 2021 at 13:40

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