020 3146 5586

Lessons for creative leaders #4 – punch above your weight

by | Jul 10, 2019

Our series of lessons for creative leaders takes a bold turn this time, with BK showing us how some truly ballsy thinking can reap dividends…

In recent years the fast food chain Burger King has earned a reputation for bold creative ideas that consumers love. So what lessons can creative leaders learn from the people behind the work?

Burger King sees creativity as a key differentiator in the competitive fast food sector where it has much smaller budgets than its rivals. The cheeky, sometimes seemingly counter-intuitive approach to marketing has seen the brand win 94 Cannes Lions, including the Direct Grand Prix this year for the Whopper Detour plus two other Grand Prix (more below).

Earlier campaigns taking the fight firmly to the competition include the ‘McWhopper’. In 2015 in an open letter in the New York Times Burger King proposed a truce with McDonalds and the Big Mac as part of World Peace Day. The idea was to join together to create the McWhopper hybrid. Apparently the response to the initial pitch from the New Zealand based team to global CMO Fernando Machado was: “I don’t swear often but I fucking love the idea”.

McWhopper creativity case study

A bold, irreverent idea – to speak to and refer directly to your main competitor in public. On World Peace Day. Of course this could have been done in advance, and behind closed doors, but where would the fun be in that? The idea was considered a PR masterstroke that caught the competition way off guard and garnered millions of earned eyeballs. What comes through loud and clear through reading about how these ideas came to fruition is that persistence, teamwork and resilience are all key requirements for a creative leader. It also takes confidence that your product is as good as, if not better than the competition or the idea could fail spectacularly.

“Campaigns without creativity simply become “wallpaper” and no one takes any notice.” Fernando Machado, Burger King, CMO

More recently this year ‘The Whopper Detour’ has created a big prank that BK customers are  in on and they loved it! Delivering a ROI of 39:1 and still counting.

The fast food chain sold its Whopper hamburgers for $0.01 – the catch? Only to customers who were within a 600-foot radius of a McDonald’s. WTF?!

To get the deal people had to download the Burger King app and head to their closest McDonald’s. When they got close enough they could order the 1 cent Whopper via the app, then head to their nearest Burger King for pick up.

The idea was to create the “biggest ‘WTF moment.’ It was the opposite of direct marketing and the opposite of experiential because you’re physically sending people to your competitor. It worked for us, it was one of our blockbuster campaigns,” said Machado.

But the idea was not born from one brainstorm, one person or a simple, linear process. As Machado says: “It was not born as Whopper Detour. Not even the name. The idea was different, but the DNA of Whopper Detour was there somewhere. The ability to spot that and nurture the idea was critical for this case. Actually, in most successful cases we’ve developed, that seems to happen. “When a lion is born, it’s very easy to kill it.” Kash Sree used to always say that to me. You need to trust uncertainty and invest in the idea to make it better and better. It takes time. It takes effort. And it takes guts.”
So what lessons can we take from the work and the creative leadership that got these ideas over the line, and continues to challenge conventions:
  1. Let the idea grow
  2. Creativity takes time – Detour took over a year to make
  3. Be tech-smart and bring in tech experts
  4. Be approachable – the agency kept thinking, playing with and polishing the idea – Machado talks about ‘sucking less’ as a client – genuinely working collaboratively with his teams
  5. Live with uncertainty and keep pushing
  6. He says: “Never underestimate the power of fun. It can bend logic.”
  7. Be fearless & prepared to challenge convention for your WTF? moment
  8. Be resilient because “If it were easy, someone else would have done it”

Learning from the world’s most successful and inspiring creative leaders is on the agenda on our brand new Creative Leadership programme. Contact lucy@nowgocreate.co.uk for the prospectus and see more information here.

Read more www.marketingweek.com/burger-king-cmo-creativity-digital/

And here www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/the-inside-story-of-the-burger-king-campaign-that-changed-the-brands-entire-outlook-on-marketing/


Don’t let your organization’s creative potential go untapped. Join our small, residential creative leaders programme to up your creative confidence and learn how to lead a culture of creativity underpinned by well-researched principles and methods. Find out more here.