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This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.
Burger King has built a reputation for the unconventional — particularly under former high-profile CMO, Fernando Machado, who left the business just over a year ago. And while Fernando is rightfully lauded for pushing the creative boundaries (he’s held in particularly high regard amongst the advertising community), how well this has translated through to brand effects remains unclear. What we do know, however, is that Burger King believed a refocus on “thoughtful” and “consistent” marketing was necessary following his departure.
While past campaigns we’ve tested for Burger King have been a mix of juicy whoppers and unintended floppers, that the brand has continually remained provocative can’t be denied. The latest campaign to promote their plant-based Whopper is no exception.
The campaign uses a series of macro images of blood-red leaves and vegetables — so close-up that they resemble meat — to convey that Burger King’s plant-based Whopper is just as delicious as its more well-known meat equivalent; a ploy to win over both plant- and meat-eaters with some playful slight-of-hand.
But how would people respond to the intentional trickery? Would the plant-themed visuals bloom or wilt under the scrutiny of the ultimate judge of creativity? We put it to the test using our 3Cs framework:
The campaign was first and foremost designed to stop people in their tracks, to elicit surprise and shock, and stir intrigue. However, Burger King largely underdelivered in this respect. The mock-meat visuals failed to pique people’s interest, with many instead left bored. The imagery of raw ‘meat’ wasn’t fully understood, eliciting feelings of disgust and frustration, with many unsure what they were looking at and whether it was something more sinister. Burger King’s mock-apology did little to alleviate this confusion, with recessive text failing to land the ‘a-ha!’ moment intended.
The raw and unappetizing vegetable/meat imagery formed the dominant impression seeded in people’s minds, which meant there was little obvious connection to Burger King, the hero Whopper burger, or even the broader fast-food category. While the logo was clear, simply presenting the brand doesn’t guarantee it’ll be encoded in people’s memories. The campaign relied on people interrogating the executions in sufficient enough detail to fully comprehend the message, and this didn’t happen (not to mention the overall approach didn’t strongly align with expectations of Burger King).
While the departure from conventional fast-food advertising meant the campaign was able to craft a point of difference for Burger King, this wasn’t in a good way. In making people work hard to get what it was trying to say the campaign sent many on the wrong course, thinking the imagery was of raw meat, bacon, or even a gruesome dead body! (“It looked like cut-up body parts”, “It looked like bodily organs, not food”). With the ‘clever’ visual twist mostly going over people’s heads, only a third took out that Burger King was ‘vegan-friendly’.
Marketers would be well-advised to take a step back and attempt viewing their advertising through the lens of a consumer — one who hasn’t had the benefit of seeing an idea progress through the creative development journey. Creating intrigue and suspense across any advertising format is important, but the one thing people won’t do — particularly in low dwell time environments — is exert any extra mental effort deciphering messaging.
But Burger King didn’t just falter because of executional issues; that the campaign didn’t resonate with any group suggests a strategy misalignment. Meat-eaters expect to see delicious, cooked burgers (not raw meat), while vegetarians certainly don’t want to be reminded about meat.
While negative emotions can certainly work to grab attention, combined with confusion — and a style incongruent with the brand’s typical approach — the end result was Burger King’s Plant Whopper campaign having a muted impact.