Burger King has cultivated a formidable reputation for creativity. Over the past four years, the fast food chain has channelled its quirky, counter-intuitive personality into 94 Cannes Lions, including four Grand Prixs and the accolade of 2017 creative marketer of the year for global CMO, Fernando Machado.
Campaigns include ‘McWhopper’, which started in 2015 as an open letter in the New York Times proposing a truce with arch rival McDonald’s to mark Peace Day. The idea was to join forces on the McWhopper – a combination of the Whopper and the Big Mac.
Despite McDonald’s turning down the offer, the campaign generated 8.9 billion global impressions, trended worldwide and created $220m (£174m) in earned media for Burger King.
Equally eye-catching was the fast food chain’s Google hack – a 15-second TV ad that triggered any Google Home device within earshot to immediately tell its owner all about the Whopper burger. ‘Google, Home of the Whopper’ generated 9.3 billion global impressions, $135m (£106m) in earned media and became Burger King’s most talked about TV advert to date.
For Machado, success comes from being 100% focused on the idea. “We hardly ever brief for an idea that works on X channel, we focus on having great ideas that deliver our brand and business objectives,” he tells Marketing Week.
Burger King is not, however, in the business of creativity for creativity’s sake, says Machado. The brand sets clear objectives and well-defined KPIs from the moment it briefs for a new piece of work. The team measure everything and make it clear to their creative agency the objectives they want to accomplish.
“We are not in the pursuit of random ideas. We’re in the pursuit of ideas that will link back to our business and brand strategy, which have clear targets and objectives,” Machado states.
“Not all campaigns will do everything, but they should be doing something in the direction of the objectives you have.”
Creativity is channel agnostic
The strategy of focusing on the idea rather than the channel has freed up the brand to take risks and go in different directions, as with the Whopper Detour campaign it ran in December last year. Burger King wanted to promote mobile app ordering but the marketers were aware they needed a “big, bold creative idea” to get consumers to care.
With this in mind, the team landed on the idea of geo-fencing all 14,000 McDonald’s in the US and offering Burger King customers a Whopper for 1 cent if they ordered via the app within 600 feet of a McDonald’s.
We are not in the pursuit of random ideas. We’re in the pursuit of ideas that will link back to our business and brand strategy.
Fernando Machado, Burger King
“It was the opposite of direct marketing and the opposite of experiential because you’re physically sending people to your competitor. It worked for us, it was one of our blockbuster campaigns,” says Machado.
A year in the development, the main objective of Whopper Detour was to increase the number of app downloads and mobile payments, the assumption being that over time these consumers would spend more with the brand.
The campaign generated 1.3 billion media impressions and helped the Burger King app jump from number 686 in the app store to number one in all categories, not just food and drink. Sales through the mobile app increased by three times during the campaign and 1.5 million people downloaded the app in the space of 10 days.
Whopper Detour also drove the highest traffic to Burger King restaurants for four and a half years.
While the campaign itself only lasted 10 days, the marketing is still measuring its impact. The team is tracking whether customers who bought a 1 cent Whopper are returning to Burger King. The geo-fencing technology also means that, if the customer has geo-location enabled on their phone, Burger King can serve them an offer when they are in the vicinity of a McDonald’s restaurant.
Such was the impact of Whopper Detour that it scooped the Direct Grand Prix at the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (17-22 June), as well as two Gold Lions in the category.
The most successful campaigns end up ticking all the boxes when it comes to short and long-term metrics, Machado insists. He argues that just because the product is digital – in this case the objective was to drive app downloads – the campaign does not need to be digital. And that because now “everything is digital”, if the creative is good it will end up being shared organically on social, meaning you don’t need to put “big bucks” behind a “traditional” media plan.
Punching above your weight
Burger King sees creativity as particularly crucial because it operates in a highly competitive sector crowded with rivals that boast multi-million pound marketing budgets. In Brazil, for examples, McDonald’s budget is four times the size of Burger King’s and the fast food giant has covered the country in out-of-home advertising.
Having set itself the goal of promoting downloads of its mobile app, Burger King decided to use McDonald’s outdoor footprint to its advantage. The team developed an augmented reality filter for the app that allowed any customer who pointed their phone at a McDonald’s ad to burn the screen and release a Burger King coupon.
Since the campaign was released in March, more than a million people have downloaded the Burger King app in Brazil, taking it to number one on the Brazilian app store.
Next, the fast food chain turned its attention to Mexico and the rise of food delivery. Combining the business need to promote mobile ordering with the horrendous traffic jams in Mexico City, Burger King began rolling out delivery to cars stuck in the gridlock.
Kicking off in May, ‘The Traffic Jam Whopper’ campaign required a dynamic media buy that served out-of-home ads and push notifications to drivers only when they were stuck in a traffic jam. Despite being confined to Mexico City, coverage of ‘The Traffic Jam Whopper’ went global.
Reflecting on the recent campaigns in Brazil and Mexico, Machado insists that he could have developed the best programmatic plan to drive downloads for the Burger King app but that alone would not have worked. He is convinced that campaigns without creativity simply become “wallpaper” and no one takes any notice.
Machado believes there was a tipping point where Burger King started to be recognised as a “great client” and agencies knew that if they presented a creative idea, even if it was crazy, the in-house team would work hard to make it happen.
The Burger King marketers are always working on four or five different things at once, learning from each campaign as they go along to become more effective over time. Machado is proud of the fact that Burger King has moved from delivering billions of impressions, to delivering billions of impressions that drive results.
“It’s not just media coverage for the sake of having media coverage, but we communicate even more powerfully our business and brand objectives,” he states.
“I see the brands that are most successful manage to do that. They manage to be relevant in pop culture, they manage to carve out a space in people’s minds, they make the strong stronger and they deliver a business result.”