Embrace Fear with the King

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The upside of taking risks dwarfs the downside of a potential failure when it comes to developing a brand. That’s the mindset that helped Fernando Machado, Global CMO at Burger King, turn three simple ideas into a brand that has collected 94 Cannes Lions awards in the past four years.

Burger King has boiled their brand down to three simple briefs: “Let’s encourage people to be their own way, because fire is better, showcase whopper love.” Every ad they put out should make the consumer really feel one of those ideas, according to Machado, and often it takes a risky move to make that happen.

Machado didn’t see the efforts of Burger King in the years preceding his arrival at the company five years ago as meeting those standards. He described the tactics as “lazy celebrity marketing”. The idea of throwing celebrities in a commercial and calling it a day gets a conference room excited, but trying to use picture-perfect figures like celebrities to represent inherently imperfect products just doesn’t work, according to Machado. Instead, he says the ad needs to be a bit edgy, or “perfectly imperfect”.

“Be afraid. Be very afraid. But do it.” Machado reiterated throughout the talk.

To showcase the product of this formula, Machado pointed to Burger King’s campaign that utilized Google Home’s technology to create “the longest 15 second ad in history”. The spots claimed that all of the great qualities of the franchise’s signature item, the Whopper, couldn’t be explained in the 15-second time limit. At the end of the ad, the spokesperson says, “Ok Google, what is a Whopper?”. The campaign went viral when viewer’s Google Home devices picked up the voice command and began reading off the Whopper’s Wikipedia entry.

Soon after the spots began to air, Google updated the software of the devices to prevent the commercial from registering as a voice command. Some companies might have been worried about the press claiming it as an invasion of privacy, but that wasn’t going to let the fun stop for Machado and the rest of the Burger King team.

Committed to getting as much out of their idea as possible, they doubled down, and it paid off. After airing another set of the same tv spot, but with the voice altered so it would register on updated devices, the ad became one of the most talked about ads in Burger King history.

The Google Home stunt is just one of numerous success stories stemming from Machado’s belief in a quote borrowed from Mark Zuckerberg- “The biggest risk is not taking any risk at all”. If the boardroom doesn’t cringe a little bit at the thought of actually using the idea, it probably isn’t going to have an impact on the audience, Machado said.

Machado says he’s willing to take risks to grab the audience’s attention in part because the consequences of failure are rarely overwhelming. Machado explained that, in a digital climate where the subject of online conversation is constantly changing, discussion of a topic usually dies out in the matter of about eight days anyway. Burger King never received backlash for any of the campaigns they put out globally, according to Machado.

In a market so crowded with noise and competition that Machado said, “it’s like there’s a Starbucks in the bathroom of every Starbucks,” he believes it’s more important than ever to entertain ideas that marketers might consider insane at first. Machado says that you’ll be surprised what can come from a risky idea if you just let it grow.

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