​From Fractions to Flops: The A&W Third-Pound Burger Story

​From Fractions to Flops: The A&W Third-Pound Burger Story

Posted by Emma on 5th May 2024

One food story that stands out in the history of fast food is A&W Restaurants' attempt to revolutionise their burger offering with their third-pound offering. This story, marked by mathematical calamities, marketing missteps, and a fundamental misunderstanding of fractions, warns about the complexities of consumer perception.

A&W - Cookstown - 20221023 224405778 Sikander Iqbal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The year was the early 1980s, an era marked by fierce competition among fast-food giants. A&W, under the ownership of A. Alfred Taubman sought to carve out its slice of the market by introducing the " Third is the Word" campaign, touting its new third-pound burgers as a formidable challenger to the reigning champion, McDonald's Quarter Pounder.

With the promising results of blind taste tests in their hands, A&W embarked on a bold marketing campaign, brimming with confidence that consumers would flock to their doorstep for a superior burger at the same price. However, the reality was far from their expectations, as sales of the third-pound burger failed to take off, leaving A. Alfred Taubman and his team were confused and frustrated.

The turning point came when a market research firm tasked with unravelling the mystery behind the burger's lacklustre performance conducted focus groups that revealed a shocking truth. When presented with the choice between a third-pound burger and its quarter-pound counterpart, participants were taken aback by the perceived injustice of paying the same price for what they believed to be less meat.

The crux of the issue lay not in the quality of the burger itself, nor in the efficacy of A&W's marketing efforts, but rather in a fundamental misunderstanding of fractions among the consuming public. In a nation besieged by numerical illiteracy, the sight of " 1/4" held greater sway than "1/3," leading consumers astray and averting A&W's grand ambitions.

Source & Copyright - A&W Restaurants 

The revelation was a bitter pill for Taubman and his team. It underscored the sobering reality that even the most meticulously crafted marketing messages could falter in the face of consumer confusion. The lesson learned was clear: clarity and comprehension must reign supreme in the realm of sales and marketing, lest the pitfalls of miscommunication derail even the loftiest of endeavours.

But what of A&W, beyond the saga of the third-pound burger? Founded in 1919 by Roy W. Allen, the brand boasts a storied history predating even sliced bread's ubiquity. From its humble origins as a roadside root beer stand in Lodi, California, A&W has burgeoned into an international franchise powerhouse, with its signature root beer remaining a beloved fixture in the hearts and minds of consumers worldwide.

A&W - Cookstown - 20221023 221730133 Sikander Iqbal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A&W's ability to weather storms and emerge stronger is a testament to its enduring appeal and unwavering commitment to quality. Through economic downturns and global pandemics, the brand has stood tall, bolstered by a dedicated support team, a rich legacy, and an unyielding passion for the industry and the communities it serves.

As the curtain falls on the saga of the third-pound burger, one thing remains abundantly clear: the road to success in the fast-food industry is fraught with peril, but for those like A&W who navigate it with grace and resilience, the rewards are as bountiful as a frosty mug of their legendary root beer.