Burger King Puts Its Account Into Review as we PREDICTED

Burger King Puts Its Account Into Review as we PREDICTED

Steve’s breakdown: Since October we’ve been talking about how Burger King was so due for an advertising review. In fact we just said it straight out with the headline: Burger King CMO departs after less than two years: What’s Next? Review

MIAMI, FL: Burger King has hit the reset button on its U.S. marketing as its U.S. sales continue to sag.

The fast-food brand is reviewing its U.S. creative partner David, which has held Burger King’s global AOR relationship since 2014. Restaurant Brands International will also put its media account in review for all three of its major brands, Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes. Horizon Media has served as the media AOR for Burger King since late 2013. These reviews come as Burger King and its sister brands have experienced a mass exodus of marketing leadership over the past year.

A Burger King spokesperson told Adweek in a statement that Horizon and David will be invited to participate in the RFP, adding, “As BK continues to evolve its efforts to achieve world-class relevance with today’s guests, a thorough review of key aspects of the business will take place.”

According to COMvergence, Burger King spent $212 million in offline media, Tim Hortons spent $6 million and Popeyes $124 million over the past year. Consultancy ID Comms will be manage all the reviews.

Burger King starts fresh

In the beginning of 2021, Burger King refreshed its look, ditching its logo of the past 20 years to go retro and return to its roots, but as 2021 carried on, its marketing leadership would need its own refresh.

Over the past year, parent company Restaurant Brands International has lost four of its key marketing leaders. Fernando Machado, who served as CMO of Burger King and later global CMO of RBI, left the company in April 2021 to become the global CMO of Activision Blizzard. Paloma Azulay filled Machado’s role, but her stint as RBI global chief brand officer lasted just six months, as she left the company in October 2021. Burger King’s first North American CMO Ellie Doty spent just over a year in her role before she chose to leave in November 2021. Last month, Popeyes CMO Bruno Cardinali stepped down to take a break from marketing.

With the creative review for Burger King and media reviews of all three companies and the departures of so many senior leaders, RBI is effectively starting with a clean slate in its marketing departments. Currently, the only significant holdovers are Hope Bagozzi, who has served as the Tim Hortons CMO since Jan. 2020, and creative agency Gut, which is the creative agency of record for both Popeyes and Tim Hortons. Independent agency Gut, which was founded in 2017 by two of David’s leaders, won AOR duties for Popeyes in March 2020 and Tim Hortons in June of last year.

Burger King declined to comment on which agencies it has invited to participate in the review, or whether it seeks to consolidate its marketing partners within one advertising holding company—as many major advertisers have done in the past year.

Declining U.S. sales

While Burger King has seen growth on a global scale, its U.S. operations are falling behind.

During the three-month period ending September 30, 2021, Burger King’s same-store sales decreased 1.6% in the U.S., but increased 16.2% in the rest of the world.

In the same quarter, the number of Burger King restaurants in America declined 1.7% to 7,093. Restaurant locations outside the U.S., however, expanded 3.2% to 11,830.

In April 2021, Forbes reported that Burger King had lost its grip as the second largest burger chain in America, falling behind Wendy’s in U.S. sales despite having about 1,000 more locations.

Two long relationships in jeopardy

David Miami quickly established itself as an agency capable of delivering massive viral hits—stunts coined as David Specials for Burger King. Some of the most successful campaigns include:

  • The Proud Whopper in 2014. Burger King used the proceeds from the sales of the Proud Whopper to give LGBTQ students scholarships.
  • Flame grilled restaurants in 2017. This print campaign showcased three BK locations that burned down to highlight how the chains burgers are flame grilled.
  • Bullying Jr. in 2017. The emotional stunt showed that just 12% of customers stood up for a kid being bullied while 95% reported their smashed burgers were “bullied.”
  • Whopper Net Neutrality in 2018. Burger King used the Whopper to explain to customers the problem with potentially repealing net neutrality.
  • Moldy Whopper in 2020. David Miami teamed up with two other agencies to create this memorable—and much discussed campaign—that showed Burger King’s commitment to natural ingredients.

Not of all of Burger King’s greatest hits from the past handful of years came from David Miami, however. BK has long encouraged shops to pitch projects, as the brand would execute the best ideas, no matter where they came from. That led to the heavily awarded “Whopper Detour” campaign from FCB New York, which used geolocation to encourage customers to download the BK app, go to McDonald’s and get a coupon for a 1-cent Whopper. The campaign lifted Burger King to the top of the charts for app downloads. Similarly, its highly praised “Real Meals” came from MullenLowe U.S. in 2019. A Burger King spokesperson declined to comment on whether this review will mean the end of these project-based relationships.

Horizon has had a hand in a number of Burger King’s memorable stunts, perhaps most notably its 2015 McWhopper offering. Burger King purchased a full-page ad in both The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, asking McDonald’s to partner with its longtime rival to create the McWhopper in honor of Peace Day. Horizon worked with six other agencies, including David, to pull off the campaign.

Horizon Media and David did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication for this story.

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