Burger King’s CMO on the Brand’s Hits and Misses in Social

More about Chicken Fries, less about Billy Eichner

Insiders say fast-food marketing is a blood sport, and Burger King and its CMO Eric Hirschhorn are in the thick of it. Just ask Billy Eichner. On Oct. 12, the caustic comic cried foul on Twitter in the wake of a BK ad that was uncannily similar to Eichner’s shtick.

 

 

That tempest came on the heels of the media squawk that the No. 2 burger chain was using its acquisition of the Canadian Tim Hortons chain as a way to beat U.S. taxes. Fortunately for BK, Hirschhorn—a private equity lawyer by training—is used to this rough and tumble stuff. We got him on the phone during a lull in the fighting.

Big fast-food brands like Burger King are part of American pop culture. But that also means they’re catnip for everybody on social media. Is that a blessing or a curse?
My team and I realize that we live in a social world. We know we have to listen and react fast. At the same time, we have to be careful not to diverge from the conversation that already exists. If a brand like ours approaches social media from an arm’s length, it doesn’t work.

Obviously, you know the deal with Billy Eichner and his horde of Twitter and YouTube fans. He claimed that your TV ad for chicken nuggets was a copy of his man-on-the-street routine. Did you expect that reaction, or did it catch you off guard?
I had no idea that people would get so crazy about 10 chicken nuggets for $1.49. [Editor’s note: The chain’s PR rep cut in here to state that the company had no more to say on the topic.]

Well, your chicken fries reintroduction also got a massive online response—the good kind. Was that part of the plan? Yes, we were counting on it. The surprise for me was that even though chicken fries were taken off the menu two years ago, there still had been several thousand tweets a day about them. So I knew it would be a major event when BK Chicken Fries were brought back, and sure enough, within three days there were 150,000 social media mentions.

With your background in law, you’ve been called the anti-CMO. Does the label fit?
Yeah, it’s sort of true. I don’t come from a traditional marketing background, so I don’t have a preconceived notion of how things should be done, based on the past.

Like, for instance … ?
I fill my team with a variety of people like engineers, bankers, chefs, nutritionists, store designers and private equity people. There is a lack of overlapping skills. We don’t try to use old ways to solve new problems.

You’re on the road a lot. That must give you a chance to learn about regional tastes. Name a dish—it can’t be on the Burger King menu—that you really liked and where you ate it.
I got to try the best barbecued pork around the country, and at the BarBQ King in North Carolina, I enjoyed the best barbecue in my life.

Burger King HQ is in Miami. That’s not a shabby food town, either.
Here in Miami, I know the places to find the best key lime pie.