As marketers re-align their plans to respond to new realities, Fernando Machado, the global chief marketing officer of Restaurant Brands International that owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, sticks to his recipe for success. Here’s a look at how Machado, his team and agency partners keep Burger King hot on the trending list with every campaign.
How did Burger King deal with the pandemic’s initial punches and how is the brand responding to the new reality?
We saw the pandemic coming in different waves. As our Asian marketers were feeling the impact, we were staying alert in the US. When major European countries were going through the lockdown phase, we knew it was coming closer to the home market. By the time the Covid wave hit these shores, we threw all the scheduled marketing plans out of the window and hit the re-start button. Our priority was to support communities. We gave away meals to families in need and healthcare professionals who were on ground in various countries. As those activities were rolled out, our marketing teams worked on adding layers of communication to draw attention to our sales channels. We had to adjust to the market needs swiftly. There wasn’t time to evaluate marketing strategies. We had to keep churning work that made sense in the situation in our style, and we continue to do so.
During those months, what were the conversations like with your agency partners? How did you keep them motivated?
Brands can’t work in insolation, especially during a crisis. From day one, our agency partners and marketing teams are observing, sharing, and learning together. In the anxious world that we are in right now, consumers aren’t finding enough branded content that will brighten up their day. Fast food category is a fun one. We shouldn’t miss out on opportunities that drive consumer engagement. However, this time around, we had to be mindful of the context.
For instance, in Germany, when our restaurants re-opened dine-in services, we gave away do-it-yourself ‘Social Distance Crown’ to keep customers six feet away from each other. On the other hand, in Italy, we launched ‘Social Distancing Whopper,’ with three times the amount of raw onions usually found on the burger to keep people farther away from each other.
All these brand initiatives may look relatively small, however, if you put together all the things we have done during the last few months, you will understand that our attempt is to bring back consumer spirit all around the globe.
Burger King pulled off campaigns that made headlines in the last few months – you celebrated ‘Christmas’ in July, spoke about the need to change diets for ‘cows’, and recently revamped the classic Whopper. What’s your secret sauce that keeps Burger King in the news all the time?
Let me be honest. We aren’t the largest player in the category. Therefore, we need to do things that make the brand a part of consumers’ conversations. Making headlines is almost like a dollar multiplier. It helps us stay relevant and people remember us. It’s also cost-effective. We can’t insert promotional offers in all our creative work. We wait for the right moment to talk about it. I believe that brands don’t always have to create conversations, they can be a part of consumers’ on-going conversations. We can pull off all of this only because we have strong creative partners.
What are the key marketing learnings you’ve gathered through these campaigns?
I am a believer in doing the right things for the brand before following classic marketing strategies. However, over the last couple of months, I have learnt the importance of both short and long-term plans. You can’t leave that behind even when in-the-moment is your core strategy. As a marketer, I have also learnt that nourishing your brand is important to become future-ready.
The brand isn’t as active in India in terms of the number of buzzy campaigns and work. Will that change going forward?
India is still a growing market for us. We need to set the fundamentals of the brands right. Having said that, we do take shots here and there when it comes to advertising. Also, our investment is proportionate to the size of the market. You will see more work from us as we keep growing. Our recent campaign with Rahul Bose was an indication that we are here to do work that’s different from others.
How important is the role of marketing today, in your view? And how do you make marketing a growth engine of business?
A strong marketing team can help a company identify new consumer needs. Marketers are the ones who are observing consumers’ changing habits and consumption patterns, which helps in smartly realigning budgets during a crisis. Marketing helps in driving business decisions.
What are your thoughts on marketing and building brands in the post-Covid world?
Honestly, Covid hasn’t really changed the fundamentals of marketing. Only some aspects of marketing are accelerating like building new capabilities to support digital growth is on many marketers’ priority list. Going forward, I think brands will want to do all things good for people and the planet. Again, this may not be new, but the need for doing good will humanize brands more than before.
How can brands navigate the lines between being purposeful and pandering during the pandemic?
One thing that brands need to keep in mind is to pick a purpose that is in line with the company’s philosophy. It may sound obvious, but some brands do get it wrong and create ‘disconnect’ which may be difficult to fix in the long run. If you get this right, the rest is easy. Personally, I think life is too short; so, while you can, make a positive impact.