Between 2013 and 2016, 36% of adults in the U.S. consumed fast food on a given day. Up there with the biggest fast food chains, Burger King is the eighth most valuable quick service brand in the world. To stay competitive and increase visibility, they consistently deliver unconventional and innovative marketing campaigns – with stellar results. Here’s how Burger King shakes up their marketing efforts and regularly nabs the spotlight.
In 2015, Burger King sent an open letter to McDonald’s proposing that the two brands combine their most famous dish and create the McWhopper, a special offering for World Peace Day. The letter, which ran as a full-page newspaper ad, invited McDonald’s to view the peace proposal at mcwhopper.com.
McDonald’s declined the offer, but Burger King walked away the winner by successfully catering to their desired demographic.
In 2015, Burger King faced declining popularity within 18–34 demographic amid competition from socially conscious brands such as Chipotle. BK’s mashup burger solution aimed to capture the attention of socially conscious and experience-driven millennials. In the end, the campaign increased purchase consideration by 8% of millennials.
Combining media platforms
For maximum reach, the McWhopper campaign blended traditional and new media platforms. The open letter was published on social and traditional media and supported by outdoor placements around McDonald’s stores. Burger King’s media kit, disguised as microsite mcwhopper.com, enabled media outlets to create own articles and allowed the public to share the campaign.
Opportunities for customer engagement
For Burger King, McWhopper’s success hinged on engaging consumers. To inspire and empower consumers to take action, Burger King created a comprehensive suite of campaign assets such as the Burger Build film, which allowed customers to create and share do-it-yourself McWhoppers on social media. To encourage shareability, the campaign assets were made available in multiple languages.
Despite the lack of cooperation by McDonald’s, the McWhopper campaign achieved $138 million in earned media and helped increase Peace Day awareness by 40%.
To celebrate the Whopper’s 50th anniversary, Burger King conducted an experiment to reaffirm the Whopper’s iconic status as ‘America’s favorite burger.’
For the campaign, Burger King told customers that they permanently removed the Whopper from their menu and would swap Whopper orders with competitor’s burgers, like the Big Mac. The campaign went viral fast. Why was the Whopper Freakout successful?
Burger King created an eight-minute documentary of the experiment and posted it on Whopperfreakout.com. To drive traffic to the microsite, Burger King placed the details at the end of the Whopper Freakout TV ads. Thanks to the easily sharable links, the campaign went. The site recorded one million visits and over four million finished video views, meaning most visitors watched it several times through.
Burger King’s brilliant Whopper Freakout campaign was the most recalled ad in the first two weeks of 2008, produced a double-digit increase in Burger King’s quarterly sales, and still stands as a timeless case study for innovative marketing.
Google Home of the Whopper
In a 2017 TV commercial, a Burger King employee asked, “OK, Google. What is the Whopper burger?” The vocal cue triggered Google Assistant in homes where the ad was heard and responded by reading out the Whopper’s Wikipedia entry. The move took customers by surprise and had the world talking about BK’s uber-modern marketing idea. Within two hours of its , the one-night-only campaign garnered two billion impressions.
Dodging Google bumps: hours after the first online ad aired, Google quietly disabled the ad from triggering Google Home devices. But Burger King overruled Google’s by creating three additional versions of the ad, and as Google wasn’t prepared to block the content, ads aired twice during prime-time TV that evening.
Expert troll handling: When trolls began editing the Whopper’s Wikipedia page to say the burger is “made from a medium-sized child” and “topped with cyanide,” Burger King stayed mum, understanding that customers were just having fun engaging with the campaign.
The “Google Home of the Whopper” TV ad netted 10.5 billion impressions and an estimated $135 million in earned media. Although the Google Home Whopper stunt raised privacy concerns, it got consumers talking and raised the bar for innovative marketing.
In December 2018, Burger King launched a Whopper Detour campaign promoting the ‘order ahead’ feature on its app. The campaign presented customers within 600 feet of a McDonald’s restaurant with a limited-time offer to purchase a Whopper for just one penny. After placing the order, customers were “detoured” from McDonald’s and navigated to the nearest Burger King restaurant to pick up their order.
In just a few days, the app was downloaded over 1 million times, boosting Burger King’s app from ninth to first place in the iTunes App Store’s food and drink category. Here’s a quick review of how Burger King used its mobile app, location data, and roguish brand identity to its advantage.
Geo-conquesting: for this rather cheeky stunt, Burger King spent a year developing geo-conquesting to reroute customers from more than 14,000 McDonald’s locations to Burger King restaurants.
Smart Pricing: Burger King’s $0.01 Whopper price tag was a strategic move to get customers to download the app and input their credit card details. And customers were happy to hand over their information. According to CNN, over 50,000 users took advantage of the deal. That’s about 20 times more redemptions than any other Burger King app promotion.
Trollish Promotions: to assist with the Whopper Detour campaign virilization, Burger King served a side of sass to McDonald’s using a promotional video showing footage of “customers” (actually paid actors) trying to order Whoppers at McDonald’s drive-throughs. Print ads depicted The Burger King himself changing a McDonald’s sign to read “Billions Swerved” instead of “Billions Served.”
While the saying ‘a friend is worth more than gold,’ may apply in real life, Burger King discovered a Whopper was worth more than that on Facebook. In 2009, the fast-food chain launched a Facebook application campaign called the “Whopper Sacrifice.” The campaign promised a coupon for a free hamburger if participants deleted ten of their Facebook friends.
Here’s how their campaign entertained consumers, nearly destroyed Facebook, and creatively captured attention on social media
A simple yet thought-provoking idea: the concept and message were simple and easy to communicate – sacrifice ten friends, get a free Whopper. And because Burger King ironically delivered the message on a platform that encourages maintaining connections, this simple pitch forced consumers to consider the extent to which they valued the Whopper.
A strong value proposition: Burger King understood that value drives action. Therefore, instead of just giving out free coupons, Burger King tied the coupons to value-driven incentive – the opportunity to prune friends lists for a better Facebook experience. This value proposition led 82,000 Facebook users to sacrifice over 230,000 Facebook friends.
Making a strong statement: The Whopper Sacrifice sabotaged a core element of Facebook by encouraging users to unfriend people. This provocative act also included notiﬁcations informing users that they had been sacriﬁced for a 10% share of a Whopper.
Although Facebook “burned” the Whopper Sacrifice after 10 days citing policy violations, the ad proved that many Americans loved the Whopper more than keeping an online friendship with their cousin’s best friend’s sister-in-law.
Burger King spent less than $50,000 on the Whopper Sacrifice Facebook app, but it earned 35 million free media impressions, totaling over $400,000 in press/media.
Shake Off Lazy Marketing
Controversies and privacy concerns aside, Burger King’s marketing stunts prove that brands must take risks to get attention in the fast food industry. If you’re considering a daredevil promotional move or two, keep your lawyers on speed dial, fail fast, and stay true to your brand. Win over consumers through innovative advertising and promotional programs—just be sure you’re ready for all possible fallback scenarios.