Burger King CMO says half his time is dedicated to finding healthier ingredients
A trend that is only growing among consumers is the desire for better, healthier ingredients in their food, even fast food. For Burger King Global Chief Marketing Officer Fernando Machado, the effort to make the fast food giant healthier has become a larger part of his role.
On Tuesday morning during Advertising Week, Machado gave a keynote speech in a panel called “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. But Do It,” and afterward took questions from the audience. Machado shared that half of his time today is dedicated to ensuring the removal of additives in Burger King’s food, such as artificial sweeteners. The company has been dedicated to doing so for the past four to five years, he says, but it’s a long and difficult process.
“It’s not easy to remove preservatives from food,” says Machado, wearing hamburger socks and a burger pin. “We’ve done a lot and we haven’t communicated it because it’s not 100-percent there.” Most recently, Burger King began rolling out its plant-based Impossible Whopper to stores across the country.
He sees cleaning up BK’s product lineup as a necessity to ensure the legacy of the company. “I’m trying to invest a lot of time to make sure the brand is ready for 2030, and not just for next year,” he says. It’s also personal goal for him. He describes wanting his four-year-old son Leo to have the freedom to eat anything on the Burger King menu he wants. “I want him to be able to go to Burger King and feel good about it,” he says.
Machado also reflected on Popeyes’ chicken sandwich craze. When Popeyes—which is owned by Burger King’s parent company Restaurant Brands International—ran out of its new chicken sandwiches this summer, he was blown away. Even though the company knew the product would be a hit, they did not expect to sell out.
“I never saw anything in my career like what happened with Popeyes’ chicken sandwich,” he says.
Machado also briefly touched on the Super Bowl. While he didn’t say what, if anything, the brand has in store for this year, he did say that he never works off a brief for advertising’s biggest event. Rather, the brand participates in the Super Bowl if an idea fits it.
During his keynote, Machado looked back at his six years at the company, and showed how the company’s marketing trajectory has changed since taking up the position. At the panel, Machado was also awarded with Advertising Week’s Global Advertising Thought Leader Award. At the time he started, Burger King had been producing what he calls “fake” work, spots that starred “nothing but celebrities” and “lacked originality.” As an example, he played a 2012 Burger King spot with Steven Tyler hawking chicken strips from a drive-through window.
Today, in such a competitive industry, he says Burger King is determined to put out ideas that have not been done before by embracing fear, rather than being fearless.
“I’ve seen a lot of people on the client side killing ideas because they don’t know how to do it,” he says. “You have to put your career at risk sometimes. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
Every year, he’s surprised that Burger King’s risks play out, he says. This past Cannes, the fast feeder nabbed the highly-coveted Titanium Grand Prix award, as well as the Mobile and Direct Grand Prix awards for its “Whopper Detour” work, created with FCB New York. The campaign allowed consumers to purchase Whoppers for just a penny, but only if they were buying from within or near a McDonald’s. So far, other work this year included: anti-Happy Meals, filming actual people in food comas after eating and delivering Whoppers in traffic jams.
Machado also jokingly reflected on competition across the restaurant industry.
“In New York there’s a Starbucks in the bathroom of the Starbucks. It’s so tough,” he says. “Whatever I do, I need to stand out.”