Fernando Machado will join Activision Blizzard as chief marketing officer, as the high-profile exec transitions from fast-food to gaming.
“Fernando Machado will join Activision Blizzard as our new chief marketing officer to continue the mission critical work of our marketing teams across the company,” Daniel Alegre, president and chief operating officer of Activision Blizzard, said in a statement to Ad Age. Machado will start on April 12.
“Fernando is a marketing powerhouse with a proven track record of bringing bold and innovative marketing campaigns to life, and brings a wealth of experience, having led multi-faceted marketing teams on some of the biggest and most recognized brands in the world," said the statement. "Fernando is known to push creative boundaries, which has resulted in a number of accolades, including AdAge’s CMO of the Year in 2020.”
Machado on Thursday confirmed that he is leaving Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International where he has served as global CMO since 2020. The executive previously was head of brand marketing at Burger King. Known for boundary-pushing campaigns such as “Whopper Detour” and “Moldy Whopper,” Machado is among the world’s most high-profile marketing executives.
The move to Activision Blizzard marks a significantly new career direction after Machado spent years working on brands in the food and consumer packaged goods industry. He spent 18 years at Unilever before joining Burger King.
But his skill at thrusting brands into pop culture with buzzworthy campaigns would seem to be a good fit at Activision Blizzard as it tries to make waves in the highly competitive gaming industry. The company’s Activision unit includes titles such as “Call of Duty,” while Blizzard has “Overwatch,” and another unit called King is known for “Candy Crush.” The company is also involved in the fast-rising esports industry. Activision Blizzard's 2020 revenue surged to $8.09 billion, compared with $6.49 billion in 2019 thanks in part to what it described as a record year for its “Call of Duty” franchise.
The gaming industry as a whole has enjoyed success during the pandemic with more people stuck at home, but social distancing has hurt esports leagues that rely on in-person tournaments. Activision Blizzard laid off dozens of workers in March, including 50 people who handled esports programming, according to Bloomberg, which cited a company spokesperson saying its esports team has “had to adapt its business due to the impact the pandemic has had on live events.”
The company in 2019 hired former Creative Artists Agency exec David Messinger as its first global chief marketing officer. Machado will replace Messinger, who is expected to remain for a transitionary period.
Given his work for Burger King, Popeyes and more, Machado has been celebrated as one of the industry’s most creative marketers—someone who embraces and takes risks with innovative ideas that perhaps the more traditional sort would shy away from. That includes campaigns for Burger King that featured a Whopper that grew green with mold and showed real BK restaurants on fire.
Those risks, at times, have backfired, as in the case of the brand’s recent International Women’s Day campaign featuring the line “Women belong in the kitchen.” The idea meant to toy with the familiar sexist phrase as a way to promote a BK initiative designed to help nurture female chefs. However, it quickly got misconstrued on social media and the brand later pulled the ad and issued an apology.
The industry will be watching to see how the agile thinking he demonstrated in the fast food industry will translate to gaming. His previous work at BK has tapped into the gaming set, as in a campaign released this week that turned the basketball court in “NBA 2K21” into a “menu” that allowed gamers to score free food. But gaming fans can be a cynical bunch. Consider another BK campaign from Ogilvy Madrid that targeted gamers on Twitch. The brand had exploited the platform’s donation feature to promote its $5 value meal, drawing ire from popular streamers and their fans.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has sought to inject creativity into his company as well. In September 2019, he tapped BBH Global Chief Creative Officer Pelle Sjoenell to take the worldwide chief creative officer post at Activision Blizzard. “I was looking for my Jony Ive,” Kotick told Ad Age at the time. “Pelle will be providing creative inspiration for all of marketing, but also for the business units, the franchise leaders. He’ll also fill responsibilities around the company brand from a creative perspective.”
Contributing: Ann-Christine Diaz