What can marketers learn from Burger King’s CMO?

Jim Johnson, Vice President, Account Planning, VDX.tv

Each March, thousands of marketers, musicians, media and party people descend upon Austin for South by Southwest. The nine day “convergence of the interactive, film and music industries” presents a vast array of experiences for attendees to partake in, and the highlight of my own experience was the opportunity to interview Fernando Machado, the Global CMO of Burger King, as part of Brand Innovator’s “What’s Next on the Digital Horizon?” conference. With more than 120 Lions in Cannes (5 GPs), 16 D&AD Yellow Pencils, 1 Grandy (McWhopper), and 2 Grand Effies in North America, Fernando is one of the most decorated marketers in the business today.

During my time with Fernando, our discussion revealed some fascinating insights into his ascension to a Global CMO role, his thoughts on coming up with great ideas, the beauty of simplicity, and how brands can make lasting connections with consumers. Below, I’ll expand on the key points discussed, and ideas on how marketers and brands alike can learn from one of the industries’ most decorated creative minds.


Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 2.31.19 PM


Becoming a Marketer

When asked how his background lent itself to becoming a CMO, Fernando noted, “I grew up liking both numbers and art. I always had this duality of being good with numbers but at the same time liking photography, art, and drawing.”

This is sound advice to anyone considering a career in marketing. Many of the most important decisions today stem from insights derived from troves of consumer data that require not only sound analysis, but translation into creative messaging that compels those same consumers to act!

“Math Men” and “Mad Men”

Another takeaway is considering the balance between art and science when developing advertising campaigns. On one hand, programmatic and automation are great at accomplishing certain tasks to increase operational efficiency. But in isolation, a consumer doesn’t necessarily care if an ad appeared via programmatic means or through a direct buy, just so long as it’s relevant and compelling enough to pique their interest.

Striking a balance between “Math Men” and “Mad Men” can go a long way in coming up with ideas that are both well informed and produce tangible results. Working with marketing vendors who can do both equally well means that more of your budget goes toward working media, which is critical for any challenger brand in today’s cluttered landscape.

Put Me in Coach

Fernando also highlighted the impact of coaches and mentors as he grew into his current role, and the importance of continuing education. “I’ve always had really great coaches or informal mentors who were willing to dedicate their time to work with me. Even at Burger King, even though I already had marketing experience with my 18 years at Unilever, I had a boss with a wealth of experience in the restaurant industry, of which I had zero. So, I was very lucky to have people from whom I was able to learn. And it’s a journey, I’m still learning,” he noted.

When asked how he consistently comes up with award winning ideas for Burger King, he preached that patience is a virtue. “If you are starting the journey, be patient. Start small. Coming up with great ideas is really hard, but the important thing is proving the model. The model being that creativity can lead to competitive advantage. Building a brand is about building differentiation.”

This is a great point to reiterate from a strategic perspective. Some textbook advice to marketers would be to consider your brand strengths and build your campaign ideas around them. Starting small from a tactical perspective could mean you outline these brand strengths to your consumer via print, then build an interactive digital tool as a follow up to encourage consumer interaction and further education. Close the loop with experiential efforts designed to demonstrate the tangible ways in which your product is superior to others.

Andy Takes on the Super Bowl

When asked about the Super Bowl spot they produced featuring a near-silent Andy Warhol eating a Whopper, Fernando spoke about the value of consumer attention and breaking through the clutter. “We didn’t brief for a Super Bowl spot. The Super Bowl is the most cluttered media environment that exists, (and) that spot is the opposite of the recipe of how to be a Super Bowl spot. There are no explosions, no sex appeal, no car crashing, no loud music. Its unboxing, mixed with ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) shot in 1982, which shows how ahead of its time the guy was. We did it because we know that during the Super Bowl, people are actively paying attention to the spots,” he said.

Marketers are constantly battling one another (in addition to countless other daily distractions) for consumer attention. Active attention should be a primary objective for any marketing campaign, and digital measurement centered around viewability, time spent, and engagement rate should be considered for any high impact creative executions, including video.

Food for Thought

Finally, I noted the shift in Burger King’s tagline from “Have it Your Way” to “Be Your Way”, and how it’s translated into Burger King’s marketing campaigns over the past few years. Fernando noted “Have it your way (BK’s former tagline) on the product level, is about customization. (The question was) how can I elevate “Have it Your Way” to be more than just about customization? And we did that by giving more meaning to it to be associated with respect for the individual, because that’s where the customization is coming from.”

His final point speaks to the world we now live in, one in which the consumer lies at the center of all that we do. Marketers should consider utilizing 100% consumer opt-in creative units to allow them the choice to interact with your brand on their terms, in addition to personalizing messaging based on previous brand interactions or touchpoints.

In summary, the most successful brands are ones that stay true to their brand positioning, utilize messaging and ad formats that respect the consumer, and provide value through compelling creative experiences. Marketers, in turn, should never stop learning and seeing the world through curious eyes. Above all, don’t ever be afraid to take a chance and be bold. You may just win a Cannes Lion along the way!


Subscribe below to stay on top of the latest updates!