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Challenger brands must do marketing with an ‘edge’ that makes them ‘afraid’ – says Burger King global CMO

Machado talks competitors at Adweek Asia in Tokyo

Challenger brands in a category have no choice but to take risks in order to stand out against the dominant competition, the global chief marketing officer at Burger King told delegates at the Adweek Asia conference in Tokyo this week.

Fernando Machado, a Unilever veteran for 18 years before joining Burger King in 2014, insisted that being bold and brave was the only way to go when you were being outmuscled in terms of advertising spend by the larger competitors in your segment.

In the case of Burger King in the United States that was McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Domino’s Pizza – he said.

The Burger King global CMO’s five golden rules for marketing

“The category is super competitive,” he told an audience of more than 500 at the Midtown Tokyo convention centre.

“If we have something vanilla, a plain ad, then I am helping the number one guy. If you are not number one and are fighting for market share then you better do something that stands out.”

This brave approach led to work like ‘The Whopper Detour’ where customers were able to claim a whopper for just one cent as long as they downloaded and opened the Burger King app in a McDonald’s store. It led to the highest Burger King store traffic in four years and some 3.3 billion impressions.

Referencing another progressive example, he highlighted ‘The Traffic Jam Whopper’ where Burger King motorcycle delivery riders delivered to drivers in cars stuck in traffic in Mexico – the country with the worst jams in the world.

As part of the campaign, digital billboards were used to display the delivery time for nearby drivers. The work resulted in a 63% spike in deliveries.

“The biggest risk is not to take any risk – you have to trust in uncertainty,” said Machado. “All the stuff we do has this edge to it because we have to stand out. We are afraid every time. In fact, if we are not afraid then we will not do it.

Being ‘afraid’ is a positive thing, says Machado

“It’s difficult to bring the organisation along with you and there are endless talks with the tech team and the legal team when you take this approach.

“But we share the ideas with legal from the beginning rather than using them as a gatekeeper at the end of the process. You just cannot scale a campaign if you have internal conflicts.”

He was less complimentary on earlier ads produced by the company in the period just before he joined, suggesting that the focus on celebrity endorsements served only to please the company’s board rather than the consumer.

“The work was bad, we were playing by the other guy’s rules,” he said. “David Beckham is not going to come to Burger King wearing a suit and then order a strawberry smoothie. That would just never happen.

“The best campaigns are the ones that are real and have authenticity. We like it when the idea hasn’t been done before, those are the ideas that pay off so don’t kill them.”

However, Machado did point to the brand’s proud advertising history with The Subservient Chicken and the top-selling Sneak King computer game in partnership with Microsoft.

He also suggested that the whopper product and the famous crown were “powerful” media assets that appealed to both children and adults.

As well as aligned internal teams, the CMO claimed that respectful and trusting relationships with agencies were another key factor when it came to success – as were simple and clear briefs consisting of just one line.

Citing some examples of such briefs, he revealed one that simply stated ‘Because fire is better’.

Some brief Burger King briefs

The marketing reboot at the fast-food chain over the last five years had led to annual high single digit or double digit sales growth way above the industry norm, and a big jump in the number of advertising awards wins – he revealed.

“Marketing is definitely helping,” said Machado. “You need to discover with your agency together how to do new things.”

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