A few days ago, Consumerist had a blog post showing an interesting map alleging to show the concentration of fast-food burger joints across the U.S.
The Consumerist post is based off an “Infographic of the Day” post from the magazine Fast Company.Â The map above appears to show a far less dominant market position for McDonald’s than many had assumed. In fact, the blogger for Consumerist notes:
I had always assumed that McDonalds’ hamburger hegemony of the United States, if not the world, was complete. I was wrong. Clearly, I need to leave the Northeast more.
Indeed, the map seems to convey that McDonald’s has extreme concentration in the Northeast, but not many other places of dominance other than a scattering of black dots across the Northwest and upper Midwest.
There’s just one problem: by making the claim that McDonald’s is not as dominant as they thought, and by failing to explain the nature of the map seen above, Consumerist (as well as Fast Company) is essentially misreading and misinterpreting the dataÂ by failing to note the map above is labeled McDonald’s vs. Allied Competitors.
So what does “Allied Competitors” mean? It means the total number of stores for McDonald’s top 7 competitors are being added together and compared directly with McDonald’s. So if there is a black dot in the region you are looking at, i.e. the Northeast, than McDonald’s in that region has more locations than its next 7 rivals COMBINED.Â In any region that is NOT black, the 7 other competitors have more stores than McDonald’s, but only AFTER you combine all their storesÂ into one cumulative number. In these circumstances, a black McDonald’s dot is simply ineligible to appear on the map for that location and the color of the competitor with the most locations in that region is highlighted on the map.
So let me emphasize that again: the most predominant competitor is highlighted EVEN IF THAT COMPETITOR HAS FEWER STORES IN THE REGION THAN MCDONALD’S.
What is a more interesting question is WHY did Consumerist and Fast Company both highlight this map?Â The original blog that posted this visualization, WeatherSealed, provided the map you see above as somewhat of an after-thought, imagining it as a Star Wars-esque “rebel alliance” of McDonald’s competitors who are able toÂ “beat” McDonald’s only by collectively banding together.Â In fact, WeatherSealed led off their original blog post with a map that is a much more accurate representation of just how much McDonald’s dominates vs. other fast food joints on a per-location basis:
Here we see some sheer dominance of Texas and Oklahoma by Sonic, a smattering of Burger King & Dairy Queen clusters in the Upper Midwest/Plain States, some Jack-in-the-Box love for So-Cal and Arizona and some Wendy’s strength in the Appalachian belt.Â But the blasting of black across the rest of the United States outside of these clusters makes clear the control McDonald’s wields over the U.S. market based on the number-of-locations metric.
So why did Consumerist and Fast Company highlight the other map? Because it’s prettier? Has more psychedelic colors? Conveys the more interesting (although completely inaccurate) point that McDonald’s might not be as dominant as people thought? Either way, Consumerist and Fast Company appear to have done a disservice to their readers by not better explaining the context of the map they were highlighting and/or noting the more relevant map of the two.