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After a Major Marketing Fail, This Fast-Food Chain Is Finally Launching a New Burger

Apparently, this one's a head-scratcher.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

A&W is putting customer math skills to the test with a revamp of its famous "1/3 lb. burger"—now officially known as the "3/9 lb. burger." If you're scratching your head reading that, rest assured: you're not alone.

The launch of the new burger was inspired by a renewed interest in an infamous moment from A&W's history: a failed marketing campaign involving hamburgers, fractions, and confused A&W fans. At the center of it all was the 1/3 lb. burger. Decades on, A&W is still trying to set the record straight on the burger's exact weight and size.

RELATED: At Long Last, McDonald's Is Testing This Burger In the U.S. Next Month

In the 1980s, the chain added a new third-pound burger to its menu, a premium item meant to rival McDonald's wildly popular Quarter Pounder. A&W had high hopes for its new massive creation and decided to sell it at the same price as the Quarter Pounder, offering more bang for the customer's buck. Following its release, however, the third-pounder failed to take off.

When A&W consulted a marketing firm to get to the bottom of things, they made a perplexing discovery: apparently, customers were struggling to understand that a third of a pound of meat was more than a quarter-pound. Yes, really, the customers actually thought the third pounder weighed less than the Quarter Pounder. "Why should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat?" they asked.

The tale of A&W's ill-fated great-value burger "has been circulating for years," according to A&W Director of Marketing, Liz Bazner. On Twitter, fans have been telling and re-telling the story since at least 2014. Meanwhile, a recent Instagram post, viewed over 50 thousand times, has reignited interest in the stranger-than-fiction marketing backfire.

 

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Seizing on the opportunity, A&W is back with the new "A&W 3/9 lb. Burger," hoping to clear up the decades-long conundrum. Drawing on the marketing insight that "bigger numbers are better numbers," A&W believes the humorous rebrand will be "so clear that no one in their right mind would think [the 3/9 lb. Burger is] smaller than a puny Quarter Pounder." And just so there's no more mathematical confusion: the 3/9 lb. burger is identical to the original 1/3 lb. burger, and differs only in name.

The fast-food chain is going all in on the relaunch, with an elaborate media campaign, including branded memes and GIFs as well as in-store promotional materials. There's also a funny new ad, starring A&W's beloved mascot, Rooty the Great Root Bear. In the ad, Rooty is shown locked away in his study, scribbling madly on a chalkboard—struggling to solve the "unsolvable equation" of the one-third-pound burger. Fortunately for A&W fans, he seems to have found the answer.

You can now grab the 3/9 lb burger at any A&W location while supplies last.

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Owen Duff
Owen Duff is a freelance journalist based in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s. Read more