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A moldy Burger King Whopper isn’t the marketing image a plant-based food producer wants to conjure when selling its product, but it helped bring marketing mastermind Fernando Machado to NotCo.
About three years ago, when Machado was still with Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International (RBI), Burger King Brazil CEO Luri Miranda tipped him off about a plant-based food startup making products called NotMilk, NotMayo and NotBurger. Machado loved the company’s design work, began following it closely and, last year—while still CMO of Activision Blizzard—commented on a LinkedIn post by co-founder and CEO Matias Muchnick touting a guerilla marketing campaign.
Five minutes later, Muchnick was in Machado’s DMs telling him how much he enjoyed Machado’s work with Burger King and Popeyes. About three months ago, a mutual friend offered to introduce Machado to Muchnick directly, and the two began talking seriously about bringing Machado aboard shortly afterward.
“[Muchnick said] ‘maybe you come in as an advisor, but actually we would love for you to come in as a CMO,” Machado told Adweek. “Activision is great—I love gaming, and it’s a really hot space—but I never worked on a startup.”
Machado liked NotCo’s ambition and stated purpose: Valued at $1.5 billion, the Chilean company uses its ”Giuseppe” artificial intelligence technology to reproduce the taste, texture and aroma of animal-based foods. It has formed product partnerships with Dunkin’, Burger King, Shake Shack and Starbucks—offering meat, milk and egg substitutes. More importantly, it licensed its AI to Kraft-Heinz as part of a plan to help large food companies produced plant-based alternatives more quickly.
“We’re opening up Pandora’s box, similar to what Intel did,” Muchnick told Adweek. “They have a technology that makes every laptop work better, and in our case we make every product better.”
Bezos Expeditions backed NotCo in 2019, and the company’s celebrity investors include Roger Federer, Lewis Hamilton and Questlove. However, it took another friend’s prodding to convince Machado that he should commit to NotCo—and that his decades of experience had prepared him to become that company’s CMO in April.
“He asked me ‘How would you feel if you leave Activision and Activision continues to do well?’ and I said, ‘Well, I will be happy for them,’” Machado said. “Then he said, ‘OK, and how would you feel if you don’t join NotCo and it grows as much as you think it will?” and I answered ‘I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself.’ And that was the ‘aha’ moment.”
A more complete CMO
Machado began his career as an intern at Unilever, spending 18 years working his way up to global brand development vp for Dove. His award-winning work for RBI included chiding Burger King’s main competitor, McDonald’s, by trying to get it to collaborate on a “McWhopper” and directing Burger King customers to McDonald’s drive-thru windows with its “Whopper Detour” campaign. They hacked Google’s smart home system with “Google Home of the Whopper” and co-opted Electronic Arts’ FIFA game series for its “Stevenage Challenge” (featuring a Burger King-sponsored team in English soccer’s lower tiers).
But NotCo isn’t getting that version of Machado: They’re getting the seasoned CMO who went to Activision Blizzard and learned how to interact with influencers and invest in digital marketing. NotCo is getting the executive who took on a large team at Activision Blizzard and faced different challenges than he did in restaurants or consumer products.
“I matured in my leadership style and I’ve learned a lot,” Machado said. “In a company like NotCo, being a bit more consistent will be important because we have less of a budget.”
He’ll also be working with far less brand equity. NotCo first appeared in 2015, which is almost 60 years after Burger King was founded in 1954. The Call of Duty franchise, one of Activision Blizzard’s pillars, was launched 13 years before NotCo produced its first product.
Planting the flag
Muchnick noted that NotCo’s entire plant-based food industry has struggled to tell a cohesive story about its products, but said Machado may be part of the solution.
“This industry needs [better] communication,” he said. “In order to make everyone understand that this is important for humanity and the future, we need the best, boldest, guttiest creatives inside NotCo.”
Going into his new role, Machado’s challenge at NotCo resembles his Burger King experience with the Moldy Whopper—which used an omnichannel marketing strategy to drive social-media and long-term awareness that the brand was removing artificial preservatives from its foods. A self-described flexitarian who still eats both beef and plant-based and uses oat and dairy milks, he noted that he pushed for plant-based alternatives at RBI because—while not always healthier—they made him feel better about the environment. Burger King not only adopted Impossible Burgers but today, in six Latin American countries, it uses NotCo products.
Machado sees NotCo as a continuation of the socially conscious marketing missions he began at Burger King and Dove. Comparing the company’s marketing presence to BBH and Levi’s black sheep, he sees room for a bit more edge in NotCo’s already subversive voice.
“The spirit is already there,” Machado said. “Where I can think I can help is [expressing] that ideology to people in a compelling way.”