5 Lessons Burger King Learned by Unleashing the Moldy Whopper

Global CMO Fernando Machado: 'Facing criticism is part of doing something great, something different'

Want to future-proof your brand? Be ready to take risks—and take criticism. Burger King
Headshot of Fernando Machado

In my view, a good CMO needs to be doing two things at the same time. First, you need to drive sales. I doubt any CMO will last too long if the brand is tanking in sales. Second, you need to make your brand “future-proof.”

The general rule is that the pressure you will get as a CMO is unbalanced. Most CMOs have much more pressure on short-term goals than on the long-term ones. But in reality, they are equally as important.

Making the brand “future-proof” requires one to create a vision about how the future will be. If you manage to get to the future first while managing the cost of that journey successfully, chances are you will capture a disproportional amount of market share in the process. Losing that race may end up being costly for your brand. In some cases, being second to something means you end up carrying a lot of cost without getting much credit for it.

I think one doesn’t need to be a marketing visionary to imagine that five to 10 years from now, people will be eating food that doesn’t contain artificial ingredients. In fact, as William Gibson once said, “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” So, if you look at the younger generations, you will see that the desire to eat “clean food” is much greater. At the same time, the perception of “fast food” with these same folks is much more negative.

So here is a very clear opportunity to future-proof Burger King. And to do that, we created the Moldy Whopper.

The main objective of Moldy Whopper—created through a collaboration of David Miami, Ingo and Publicis—was to start shifting the perception of Burger King’s food and, with that, increase consideration to visit our restaurants. From experience, every time we hit a home run with one of our ideas, we end up becoming more top-of-mind, which tends to help drive more visits. But that was not the main objective here, just a side effect of the scale of talkability we receive from ideas like Moldy Whopper.

Moldy Whopper surpassed all of our expectations when it comes to earned media impressions. So far, we earned around 8.4 billion organic media impressions (Sources: Verizon Media and Boxnet).

The quality of the impressions was also very strong. Key media vehicles from all around the globe covered the campaign. And despite the fact that some headlines had a sensationalist tone (classic clickbait strategy), the vast majority of the articles were very positive and clearly landed the main objective of the campaign: no artificial preservatives.

Contrary to what some articles/analyses reported, sentiment was primarily positive-neutral because of the significant volume news and editorial posts had on sites and Twitter.

Burger King

We believe there is a clear reason why some articles or analyses reported a sentiment which skewed more negative than the one we are showing here. Many times, the automatic analysis created by tools commonly used to monitor sentiment have limitations with keywords which are negative in theory. We faced this issue in many of our campaigns before. For instance, when we did Bullying Jr. or Whopper Neutrality, key words like “bullying” and “repeal” were interpreted by the algorithm as negatives even when the headlines and conversations were positive.

The same happened with Moldy Whopper. That’s why our team manually categorize the most popular posts—such as highly retweeted or shared articles and posts—that would typically be categorized as negative because they include words like “moldy” or “disgusting.” By manually categorizing them, we can ensure that posts that say things like “ugly but beautiful” or “disgustingly brilliant” are categorized as positive or neutral based on the full context of the post.

The majority (74%) of total conversation occurred on Twitter followed by news channels with 13% of total conversation. The campaign garnered around 600 million potential Twitter impressions. 41% of the conversation was in the form of retweets as users shared posts either from news accounts or other Twitter users. Mentions peaked at noon on the 19th (our press embargo broke early morning that day).

It is also important to highlight that in this campaign, owned content proved to be incredibly engaging to the BK audience, exceeding all KPI benchmarks on all owned platforms. Burger King’s owned tweet was one of the major conversation drivers with about 1,600 retweets.

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Fernando Machado is the global CMO at Burger King.