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Burger King’s takedown of McDonald’s icon

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
31 July 2018 3 minute readShare
Burger King, scary clown, Ronald McDonald

Global fast-food chain Burger King’s head of marketing has opened up on the fierce rivalry his company has with superbrand McDonald's, and how Burger King has overhauled its marketing to deliver impressive sales growth.

Fernando Machado, the chain’s chief marketing officer, told Advertising Week APAC in Sydney that the entire point of marketing and advertising is to get people talking about your business and your product. 

American headquartered Burger King is known as Hungry Jacks in Australia, the only place in the world it adopts this name because the trademark “Burger King” was already taken locally.

Explaining that Burger King often fields the question of “aren’t you scared” with some of its cheeky and provocative campaigns, Mr Machado said, “we are scared every f****** time. If we’re not scared, what’s the point? It needs to make you [and the customer] feel something!”

Mr Machado suggested that many businesses take a gently, gently approach to marketing for fear of generating bad publicity. However, he said that as long as “you are not really pissing anyone off”, any potential ill effects will be minimal, as hype is very short-lived.

Using examples of past Burger King campaigns from around the world, Mr Machado said the company has enjoyed huge success in sales, store foot traffic and brand awareness from pushing boundaries and embracing creativity and humour in its advertising, from directly poking fun at competitors to pairing with worthwhile causes.

Example 1: Clowning around with competitors

McDonald’s character Ronald McDonald is renowned worldwide and positioned as a friend to kids globally. Yet Burger King took a tongue-in-cheek approach to smack down this character and remove its competitor’s family-friendly appeal.

The campaign delivered a 21 per cent surge in foot traffic to its stores as customers embraced the campaign and brought major media coverage in a number of countries.

Example 2: Help where help is due

Associating with charitable causes is not a new endeavour to build brand support and engagement, yet bringing humour to the mix can be fraught with danger if the message comes across as forced or simply piggybacking on the cause for publicity.

But Mr Machado revealed an instance of how this can be done well – drawing attention to a worthwhile cause in a sensitive but humorous way that casts a positive light on the business.

Example 3: Get people talking

Embracing topical issues, and even managing potentially adverse news about the business, is often what sorts good brands from great ones.

Think of the full-page cleaning product ads that appeared a day after Sydney’s red dust storm in 2009, or Ikea’s response to a political scandal involving the amount of funds spent on furniture, which included an image of its executive desk chair with the tagline “We invite the Prime Minister to sit on it”.

Mr Machado demonstrated Burger King’s approach to this when controversy erupted over Google Home being set off inadvertently by TV ads, launching a new video that asked Google to explain the ingredients of its Whopper burger. Google tried to block the ad by targeting the actor’s voice, but Burger King persisted by re-dubbing the actor’s voice with comical voices.

Burger King’s top five strategies for marketing campaigns that work

Ultimately, Mr Machado said that consumers want brands and products that are not straight off a production line, meaning anything – including advertisements – that demonstrates an element of humanity will be welcomed and embraced.

“We need to think about what makes us different,” he said.

“If you think about [Burger King’s] products, especially our key product The Whopper, which is flame grilled… that is beautiful because no Whopper would be the another one because the grill mark is like a fingerprint, so they are never the same – and people like that.

“People like this idea of ‘perfectly imperfect’.”

Mr Machado shared these five tips for creating marketing campaigns that engage audiences and create a buzz around your business:

  1. Understand your brand: Be very clear on what you stand for and what you actually deliver to customers, and stay true to that. Be authentic.
  2. Create a great brief: Briefs to advertising and design agencies can often be overly complex, which kills creativity. Keep it simple.
  3. Let the idea grow: Not killing off creativity at the start is not the same as allowing creativity to flourish. Even ideas that may seem outlandish or hair-brained at first can be refined into something brilliant and memorable.
  4. The biggest risk is not taking any risk: Giving in to what ifs is the best way to hand your competitors the edge. Most educated risks will pay off, and even if they don’t, any negative hype will be very short-lived.
  5. One team: Get your team united behind one set of values and one goal for defining what makes a marketing campaign successful. (For Burger King, it must generate a massive two billion hits worldwide!)


Burger King’s takedown of McDonald’s icon
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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