Burger King Did Not Hire an Absolute Genius and It Paid Off
Great marketing ideas come from great strategy, not from the minds of individual geniuses
I woke up this morning to read the excellent article “Burger King Hired an Absolute Genius and It Paid Off”, published on Better Marketing, which analyzed the brilliance of one of Burger King’s most successful marketing stunts in recent years.
As the article explains, the stunt revolved around Burger King’s official Twitter account systematically finding and, mysteriously, liking influencers’ tweets from exactly nine years prior.
Below is a small selection of Burger King’s ‘likes’ from Dec 1, 2019:
In turn, this caused many of the influencers whose old posts had been liked by Burger King to publicly question what the fast-food chain was up to.
Soon, everyone was wondering what exactly Burger King was trying to do.
Soon after, Burger King dropped the bombshell, announcing that it was bringing back its funnel cake fries, a popular side dish first introduced nine years ago.
As far as guerrilla marketing stunts go, it will go down as one of the classic case studies of its kind. By leveraging those influencers’ own audiences, Burger King gained massive exposure for their product launch without having to pay a single cent.
A Method to the Madness
However, and this is big however, I balk at the article’s premise that this stunt simply came about as the result of a fortuitous genius idea. That out of 1,000 bad ideas being bandied around the table, a single, “What if we did this…?” from an unknown marketing genius sparked it all.
That is exactly the opposite of how the marketing departments of large corporations, and especially that of Burger King, actually operate.
They have a strategy. There are processes. There is always a method to the madness. As Fernanda Machado, CMO of Burger King, told Marketing Week last year:
“We are not in the pursuit of random ideas. We’re in the pursuit of ideas that will link back to our business and brand strategy, which have clear targets and objectives.”
Guerrilla marketing and advertising stunts have fundamentally underpinned Burger King’s marketing strategy since 2014. Burger King has to be creative and innovative because that is the only way they can gain a competitive advantage over the likes of McDonald’s and Subway, who spend millions more per year on advertising.
This Twitter stunt is just one small snippet of a much larger marketing strategy at play.
The Proud Whopper
In 2014, Burger King ran a limited-edition Whopper burger with a rainbow-colored wrapper to coincide with San Francisco’s Pride Parade. The Whopper inside was still the same, only the wrapper was any different. The simple message: “We’re all the same inside.”
With essentially no advertising spend, the “Proud Whopper” gained millions in earned media and cemented its place as a corporate champion of equal rights.
In 2015, in an open letter to the New York Times, Burger King proposed a ‘truce’ with McDonald’s to celebrate Peace Day. The idea was for the two competitors to join forces and create the McWhopper burger, a delicious combination of the Big Mac and the Whopper.
While McDonald’s failed the call, the ensuing publicity gained Burger King generated over $200 million in earned media coverage.
The Whopper Detour
In 2018, Burger King ran a promotion offering customers one-cent Whoppers only at McDonald’s.
Using geo-fencing technology and the BK app, Burger King offered the promotion to anyone with the BK app who was near a McDonald’s store. All people had to do to unlock the deal was download the BK app and drive to their nearest McDonald’s. Once there, the geo-fenced technology would recognize they were at a McDonald’s and — hey presto! — the user would instantly have a 1 cent Whopper voucher to use at their nearest Burger King store.
The BK immediately rose to the top of the U.S. Google Play and App Store charts, while the campaign generated another $37 million in earned media coverage.
The Moldy Whopper
As AdWeek noted earlier this year:
“There are only two eras in advertising: ads that came out before Burger King’s Moldy Whopper, and ads that came out after Burger King’s Moldy Whopper.”
In a 45-second video we have now all seen, Burger King forces us to watch a Whopper slowly decompose and rot over the course of four weeks.
Why would Burger King portray their own product in such a negative light? Because they are showing us “The Beauty of No Artificial Preservatives.”
Unlike the other stunts, this has received a much more polarized reception. Nevertheless, if there is any truth in the old adage, “all publicity is good publicity,” then Burger King has hit another winner.
It is nice to imagine that great ideas simply appear out of thin air or in a fit of inspiration. It is reassuring to think that inspiration will always be just around the corner.
In reality, great marketing ideas come through hard work, perseverance, and most importantly, through having a strong strategy in place to give direction and impetus to genuinely creative thinking.
Ultimately, great marketing ideas come from great strategy not from the minds of singular geniuses, and certainly not from out of thin air.