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Marta del Rio MARTA DEL RIO BURGER KING ESPANA

By Published on .

MADRID-"If you fail, you go down-but if you win, you go up a lot."

Marta del Rio, 32, marketing director of Burger King Espana, was discussing risks she took for her company-risks that have paid off handsomely. In the year after she joined Burger King Espa¤a in 1992, sales sizzled upwards 20%-reversing a 1991 sales drop attributed to a recession and negative fast-food nutritional reports that followed several earlier years of only single-digit gains.

Ms. del Rio joined Burger King specifically to develop Spain's potential and to open up BK's Southern Europe, Middle East & Africa division.

Research led her to try clever, unusual strategies for ad placement and promotions.

"You can't follow the rules of the game because they change every year" in a recession, she says. "You have to use a little bit of anarchy."

Ms. del Rio's successful, unusual BK promotions included seasonal "fiestas," with new food products, theme-driven employee attire and restaurant decor. During last fall's two-month Mexico Fiesta-featuring chiliburgers and employees in sombreros-sales rose 15%.

To supplement the promotions, BK ads from D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, Madrid, popped up in odd places-at bus stops and on the pages of newspaper movie listings. Research comprises about 10% of BK Espana's $3.6 million marketing budget, up 20% from 1993, and accounts for Ms. del Rio's discovery that half of BK's customers eat there before or after a night at the movies.

She placed the color ads on the movie pages, and sales soared. Customers "are seeing them an hour before they make the decisions," Ms. del Rio says.

Under her guidance, BK also became the first fast-food chain to advertise at bus stops: "For a little money, a lot of noise," she says.

The fiestas are also a smash. Ms. del Rio instituted them after research showed that even during the recession, customers' emotions played as big a role as budget in their decisions on where to eat. "In a recession everything is gray-an offer of 50% off doesn't move you," she says. Though value would seem to be the biggest consideration, feeling good about a purchase proves just as important to a buying decision.

Her astute use of the research has paid off handsomely. Spain's sales increase for its 75 restaurants last year was higher than for the rest of Europe or the U.S. Burger King Corp.'s sales grew 3.2% in 1993-in Spain, leaping 20% to almost $75 million.

While there are no official rankings of fast food chains in Spain, it's widely believed that BK trails only McDonald's. But BK claims to be coming on strong as it adds 25 new stores this year.

Ms. del Rio's strategy had the firm backing of parent Grand Metropolitan, supporting her intent to grow quickly in Spain before the market matures-within six years, by her estimate.

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