It is clear from the outset that Fernando Machado is a man committed to his brand. He arrives at our interview unashamedly wearing a white t-shirt featuring a Whopper burger draped in rainbow colours – a reference to the award-winning ‘Proud Whopper’ campaign Burger King launched three years ago, which championed the LGBTQ community. But the real reason he’s here is to talk about the power of creativity.
After all, Burger King was awarded ‘creative marketer of the year’ at Cannes Lions, which he says recognises the brand’s “long-term commitment” to creativity. And its head of brand marketing certainly does not take this lightly.
“[Creativity] is a condition for us to succeed. We’re not the biggest spender in our category; perhaps not even in the top three. Burger King is a brand that speaks louder than its size – creativity is the catalyst for that, and a way to survive and thrive,” says Machado.
A few campaigns that he is particularly proud of include, of course, ‘Proud Whopper’, and the ‘McWhopper’ ad, for which it asked rival McDonald’s to partner up to create a new burger in honour of World Peace Day. McDonald’s, incidentally, said no.
Machado joined Burger King three and a half years ago after a long stint at Unilever, and tasked himself with giving “more direction” to the brand. It had previously been acquired by investment firm 3G Capital for $3.26bn (£2.58bn) in 2010, which set out to “clean up the house”. Once the operational aspects were taken care of, Machado says Burger King started looking at making the brand “as powerful as it could be”.
The worst thing that can happen for any brand in any market is to not be noticed.
Fernando Machado, Burger King
“In the beginning we needed to have a clear brand positioning. If you can’t explain to your agency partners what the brand is about and your personality, you can’t walk the talk, improve and make great campaigns happen,” he says.
In terms of how he would define this positioning, Machado says Burger King looks to talk to people “at eye level” and put a smile on their face by being “a bit edgy”. For example, last year’s Christmas ‘Whopper Exchange’ campaign in the UK saw the brand offer a free burger in exchange for any “lousy” Christmas present.
“The brand is at its best when this [positioning] is accomplished,” he adds.
Creativity gives ‘the edge’
Burger King’s focus on creativity has seemingly paid off. Machado says the brand has been outperforming the market in terms of sales growth, and that it has opened new stores in India, China, Brazil and even the US, where growth has traditionally been flat. In contrast, McDonald’s has been closing stores in its home market and he believes there is even more room to progress.
“3G Capital bought Burger King as it thought the brand was bigger than the business. We can still grow in term of eating occasions, the number of restaurants and innovations – all those things are helping the performance of the brand. Our stock price has more than doubled in the past three years. That would not have happened if we hadn’t grown,” he says.
That is not to say Burger King doesn’t have its challenges. The burger market is extremely competitive, with McDonald’s being the market leader and newer, hipper competitors such as Five Guys also looking to be part of the action. Once again, Machado believes Burger King’s ardent focus on creativity will help it stand out from the rest of the pack.
“There are always bigger players out there who will outspend us when it comes to advertising. But creativity is what gives us the edge; we have a track record of really going for it,” he says.
“By ‘going for it’, I mean having the mindset that the biggest risk is taking no risks at all. The worst thing that can happen for any brand in any market is to not be noticed – you waste a tonne of money on media and just become noise in the background. For us to win, we need to value creativity, push boundaries and make it happen.”
Machado believes this is inherently marketers’ biggest challenge – to be brave and “do things that will move the brand or industry forward”. Burger King considers itself a brand that is “very democratic, and welcomes everyone”. At the same time, he recognises that by taking a political or social stance, the brand will alienate some consumers.
“There’s so much pressure to have a different run on things. The biggest challenge is walking the talk and to have the guts and the bravery to do things that stand out in terms of advertising,” he adds. “Having a brand positioning requires courage; you need to have opinions on issues and you can’t be everything to everyone.”
Bringing the company along with you
Despite Burger King’s relentless focus on creativity, Machado says 3G Capital’s affinity for data means it measures “absolutely everything” – from general brand health and sales to the number of people entering its restaurants. That said, Burger King is determined not to let data hamper its creative flow.
“We use that information to make things better and make informed decisions – but it has never felt like a blocker. Our campaigns always start with a strong idea,” he says.
Having a brand positioning requires courage; you need to have opinions on issues and you can’t be everything to everyone.
Fernando Machado, Burger King
He also believes relying on data too heavily won’t do anyone any favours. Instead, it is important for marketers to have the ability to galvanise people from different parts of the business around a creative idea.
“You can’t be the CMO if you’re not able to bring the company along with you, whether its franchisees, a sales team or a CEO. You need to be able to galvanise people around the idea, especially if it’s a campaign that will get people talking and therefore isn’t vanilla. If you can manage that, the rest will flow,” he says.
In terms of Burger King’s future, Machado is feeling bullish. He believes its strong brand positioning combined with its agency partners that come up with “a constant flow of ideas” will lead it to win even more awards. He quickly adds, however, that this is not the be-all and end-all.
“It’s a proxy for how creative the campaigns were. It’s more important that we have more of those ideas that will make the brand relevant and put it at the centre of popular culture.”