5 Lessons on Reaching Digital Consumers Creatively from Burger King’s Global CMO Fernando Machado


Lyssa Test

January 6, 2021 | 6 min read

Last Updated: Jan 21, 2021

“Creativity has the power to bend reality,” is the advice Burger King’s Global CMO, Fernando Machado, left with attendees of Contentsquare’s annual conference, CX Circle. Machado is an extremely decorated marketer with a proven track record of pushing creative boundaries and driving business growth, so it’s no surprise his keynote speech, “The King Just Wants to Have Fun,” shared how brands can build bold, courageous, and innovative experiences that engage customers and stand out from the crowd. 

Burger King’s secret sauce for success? According to Machado, it’s a combination of the brand’s self-deprecating personality, outside of the box thinking, and culture that doesn’t shy away from failure. “Our main goal is to bring smiles to people,” said Machado.

Like many other companies this year, Burger King has increased its investment in digital customer experience. With restaurants closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the home of the Whopper depended heavily on delivery and mobile app sales and pivoted to connect with consumers through social media and invest more heavily in perfecting their digital experience. 

That said, perfecting the digital customer journey has always been a top priority for Burger King and Machado. In his keynote address at CX Circle, Machado highlighted a few of his favorite campaigns and shared how brands can use creativity to connect with their audiences in new ways. Here’s what he had to share: 


1. Creativity Has The Power to Bend Reality

“When I see people from tech or digital backgrounds speak, I rarely hear them use the word ‘creativity,’” remarked Machado. “But I think that creativity is so centric to the work that we do and how successful we can be. I truly believe that creativity has the power to bend reality.” 

In one recent creative campaign, the BK team bent the reality of the physical and online world. They called it The Stevenage Challenge

The Stevenage Challenge was first born out of the realization that many BK customers love gaming. Additionally, because many games are live, gamers can’t pause them to go cook a meal, making delivery an enticing option for many players. 

Here’s where creativity comes into play. The Stevenage Football Club is a fourth-tier soccer team in England. Even though they’re a low-ranking team, they still appear in FIFA, a football simulation video game and one of the largest Playstation franchises. Burger King decided to sponsor Stevenage, thus prominently featuring their logo on the team’s jerseys and requiring FIFA to do the same!

Players from around the world could select Stevenage as their team and for every goal they shared on Twitter, Burger King sent them rewards. Over the course of the campaign, more than 24,000 goals were shared, Stevenage became the most used team in career mode, and the team’s shirts sold out for the first time in history

“It was an awesome example of how creativity can bridge the real world and the digital one,” exclaimed Machado.


2. If It Looks, Sounds, & Smells Like an Ad, It Isn’t a Good Ad

“There’s more to advertising than just rubbing your brand’s logo in your customer’s face,” urged Machado. Marketing campaigns are more than just advertising, reminds Machado. Great ads need to do more than just push your product or service, they must engage and connect with your consumers through their digital experience.

There’s more to advertising than just rubbing your brand’s logo in your customer’s face.

That was the idea behind the 2019 Whopper Detour campaign, which had the highest ROI for the brand of any digital campaign that year. While many other fast-food chains had mobile apps that let customers order and pay, Burger King wanted to give people a reason to talk about their app and boost app engagement. 

Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, and other fast-food chains all do the same thing to encourage customers to download and use their mobile app: they offer a free sandwich, drink, or nuggets to every customer who downloads their app. “The engagement levels are not high when you do that,” noted Machado. “We tested it out for ourselves. That’s why we had to come up with something different.” 

So how did Burger King use creativity as a source of competitive advantage? They asked customers to download the BK app, drive to their main competitor (McDonald’s) to order a $0.01 Whopper from the app, and then drive back to Burger King to pick it up.

“When I first heard that idea presented, my head exploded,” exclaimed Machado. “I thought the headline ‘You can now order a Whopper for a penny at McDonald’s’ would get a lot of people to talk about the idea, which was exactly what we were trying to achieve. The thing is, this idea breaks all the rules in terms of customer friction. It asks customers to drive to a McDonald’s and then drive to Burger King to pick up their sandwich, but we know our fans. They expect us to come up with stuff that’s a bit crazy and out there and then they engage.” And that’s just what happened.  

We know our fans. They expect us to come up with stuff that’s a bit crazy and out there and then they engage.



3. No Money, No Problem

Of course, a little cash doesn’t hurt, but remember that you don’t have to run with expensive, elaborate ideas to make waves. Instead of pouring all of your marketing and advertising budget into expensive TV ads, consider investing more in your digital brand experience and marketing strategies. With digital, you can segment and micro-target your audiences more, allowing you to create a movement and spark a conversation with your target audience, for a fraction of the cost of TV ads. Plus, having a smaller budget inspires you to get creative and scrappy with your ideas and execution. 


4. Stretch and Learn 

Many digital marketers kill a great idea when they don’t know how to execute it or think it’s too much effort. “But those are often the ideas that we are most passionate about because we will learn a lot from them,” declared Machado. The lessons and skills you learn from these stretch assignments can be applied to future campaigns and better prepare you for future challenges in creating your digital customer journey. “This mindset of stretching and learning, embracing uncertainty, and solving for something you didn’t know how to at first allows you to grow as a marketer and grow your brand,” said Machado.

This mindset of stretching and learning, embracing uncertainty, and solving for something you didn’t know how to at first allows you to grow as a marketer and grow your brand.

Machado’s recent “stretch and learn” project? The Traffic Jam Whopper. The Burger King team realized that Mexico City had lower delivery performance than over regions due to the fact that traffic in the city is so bad – sometimes traffic jams last up to 5 hours! When people get stuck in traffic, they get home so late that the restaurant is already closed or they’re too hungry to wait for delivery so they just grab something from the fridge. 

The Burger King team wanted to find a way to make delivery more accessible to their customers, even if they were stuck in traffic. That’s when the idea for the Traffic Jam Whopper was born. The team wanted to deliver to cars stuck in traffic. 

“At first, we asked a lot of questions. ‘How would we even do that?’ ‘How would we be able to find a customer?’, ‘What if after a customer orders the traffic jam breaks up?’ said Machado. “There were a lot of “what ifs,” but we thought we should at least try.”

So, how’d they do it? The team used a combination of dynamic physical-digital ads and the Waze app to promote the service to consumers in high congestion zones and leveraged GPS data and vehicle speed to pinpoint where to make the delivery. The campaign increased delivery orders by 63% and daily app download rate by 44 times, making the Burger King app the most downloaded fast food app in the country.


5. First or Nothing

Being the first to do something automatically helps your brand experience stand out. That said, being the leader also comes with its own set of challenges. We have to embrace uncertainty and overcome fear, but if you can do that, you can benefit immensely.

To help illustrate this idea, Machado shared the story of the artist Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain sculpture. The sculpture is a normal urinal, just placed on its back, but the artwork caused quite a controversy at the time of its debut and today is renowned as one of Duchamp’s most famous works and an icon of twentieth-century art. 

“If you are the first one to bring an upside-down urinal to a museum, you are an artist. If you are the second to do that, you are probably just a plumber,” explained Machado. “If I had to choose between being an artist or a plumber, I would pick being an artist.”


This article is an excerpt from Fernando Machado’s keynote address at CX Circle | Digital Happiness: The Return on Experience. To watch the session on-demand and relive the magic of the only event that explored how to build a digital customer journey that makes your consumers smile, click here