Restaurant Brands International's Fernando Machado is Ad Age 2020 Brand CMO of the Year
Fernando Machado didn’t name his first son Leo as a reminder of the Cannes Lions he had won and his seemingly insatiable appetite for more awards. Still, Anselmo Ramos, founder and chief creative officer of Gut, jokes that Machado’s firstborn was named after one of the industry’s coveted awards.
“When I met him he was a very sad client with only four Lions,” deadpans Ramos, who was approached by Machado in 2012 during the Cannes Festival of Creativity. “And now he has 160 Lions. How do I know he has 160 Lions? Because he told me, of course.” Their first campaign together, when Machado was at Unilever and Ramos was at Ogilvy, was the Cannes Titanium Grand Prix-winning Dove Real Beauty Sketches.
Burger King’s marketing has been reborn since Machado joined in 2014, with campaigns tackling everything from rival McDonald’s to issues such as bullying. The “Proud Whopper” campaign in support of gay marriage was hard to get approval for in 2014. “He wouldn’t stop selling the idea internally,” says Ramos. “He said ‘I don’t care if I get fired.’”
Now, buy-in is easier on projects, from 2019’s “Eat Like Andy” Super Bowl buy (showing Andy Warhol silently eating a Whopper) to 2020’s Moldy Whopper, which featured rotting images of the iconic sandwich to promote the absence of artificial preservatives. Compared to earlier campaigns, Moldy Whopper “was a piece of cake,” says Machado.
The 45-year-old Machado’s rise from an engineering intern at Unilever into its marketing ranks, followed by six years and counting at Burger King, has been told numerous times, often by Machado as he wears a Burger King uniform polo shirt on stage. “I haven’t been wearing it so often because I don’t want my Popeyes and Tim Hortons teams to get jealous,” says Machado.
Now, he’s outfitted by all three brands. Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International gave him additional oversight over Popeyes, where he and Bruno Cardinali, head of marketing for North America, in 2019 helped spark the fried chicken sandwich craze, driving Popeyes’ comparable sales up 12.1 percent last year. Burger King’s comparable sales, meanwhile, rose a solid 3.4 percent on top of 2 percent growth in 2018. In early 2020, Machado was also asked to oversee marketing at Restaurant Brands’ other chain, Tim Hortons, which has been struggling and saw sales fall last year. It’s the kind of turnaround story he covets, boosting a brand that has lost its energy.
“He is able to see an idea before it is an idea,” says MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer Michelle St Jacques, who worked for Machado at Unilever. “He is able to inspire agencies to bring their best work because they know he will fight to make it happen. And then he is able to show the results about why it makes good business sense. Which creates a virtuous cycle of creativity that keeps growing and growing.”
In his first marketing role, Machado worked on Fofo, the Brazilian equivalent of Snuggle fabric softener. He cut costs and reinvested the savings into making a limited-edition bottle shaped like a teddy bear that led to record sales. A refresh of the Vaseline brand led to his first Cannes Lion, in 2006.
Later, as global VP for Dove, he pulled out a black Moleskine book over coffee with his boss, Steve Miles, and they jotted down 10 “hardcore, ambitious targets” including winning more than one Grand Prix at Cannes, having a campaign that went viral, and going from low single-digit growth to double-digit growth. Each goal was achieved.
After four years on Dove, Machado left in search of a brand that was “dusty and old.” He called Alex Macedo, then president of Burger King North America, who he knew from their INSEAD MBA program years before.
“Six years ago, it was not really like a marketing-driven place,” Machado says of Burger King.
Machado sparked new energy with campaigns such as December 2018’s “Whopper Detour,” which boosted usage of its app by offering 1-cent Whoppers to users who ordered while in or near a McDonald’s. The app, Burger King says, was downloaded 1.5 million times in nine days.
Machado admits that he could have been better aligned with others on certain projects and backed some efforts with more media, rather than relying on earned views. Now that the team has results to back up their ideas, they are easier to pitch to franchisees, investors and other stakeholders.
“I can influence at a much bigger scale here,” he says, noting that his direct reports include the head of sustainability, and he’s also involved in the work the company is doing on diversity and inclusion.
Ramos says people call him saying they want to be like Machado, and he explains it isn’t so simple. “He became synonymous with brave client,” says Ramos. “You have to do everything that he does. The guy is completely obsessed, and it’s not easy to find that kind of obsession.”