Fernando Machado, Burger King’s CMO, is chairing the Effective Use of Brand Purpose in this year’s WARC Awards. Here, Lucy Aitken asks him about Burger King’s relationship with brand purpose and the ongoing backlash that purposeful campaigns attract.

Why is brand purpose important?

Expectations today, especially among younger generations, dictate that companies and brands have to do more than sell them stuff. A study from Forbes showed that 91% of global consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar price and quality supported a good cause (Source: Forbes, Marketing 3.0 Will Be Won By Purpose-Driven, Social Brands, 2013). This behaviour is even more pronounced in the younger generation. The Moosylvania Millenial Report from 2015 clearly states that “brands that market with a positive message and display social responsibility show that they care about millenials care about”.

Why has Burger King's relationship with brand purpose been so effective?

When defining purpose for a brand, there’s one critical thing: it has to come from an authentic place. It cannot be a noble cause for the sake of it. At Burger King, we’ve been telling people for years that they can have it their way. That was our line and we’ve been putting the crown on everyone’s head, both kids and adults. So Burger King, with the Whopper, is an equaliser that respects individuality and welcomes everyone.

So Proud Whopper in 2014 [where Whoppers were wrapped in rainbow packaging to help promote acceptance and equal rights], or campaigns such as McWhopper, where Burger King invited McDonald’s to join forces for Peace Day, show that we welcome everyone, even our biggest rival. Bullying Jr has been another great example from Burger King. And most recently Whopper Neutrality has leveraged the credentials of our product as a social equalizer to demonstrate the effects of the repeal of net neutrality.

How do you combine purposeful marketing communications with short-term activation?

We also have promotions, but we want to go beyond that and engage people at a different level. Because while we seek to engage the brains (with attributes, price points, among others) and stomachs (with cravable food), we also need to engage the heart. Purpose matters: look at the results we have achieved with these kinds of activities. That gives us the confidence to continue. Also, over time, people’s attitudes shift around the brand attributes over metrics such as ‘this brand understands me’ and ‘it’s a brand for people like me’. That’s important because I wouldn’t expect to launch a campaign with a purpose and for it to explode tomorrow. And while nothing beats a good promotion in driving sales in the short term, we also need to think about the long term. McWhopper, which was about peace, acceptance and welcoming our biggest rivals, was entertaining but it also delivered results over time.

What other brands do you admire for their purposeful stance?

Patagonia did something amazing when it donated its tax rebate to help combat climate change. And one iconic case is Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign from last year.

There may have been haters but Nike was on the right side of history and that led to a 31% increase in sales.

I worked at Unilever before Burger King and that is a company that’s invested a lot in purpose. It ensures that every single brand has a purpose and a social mission. I worked for Dove and I know how powerful the Campaign for Real Beauty was for that brand. And now we see P&G doing amazing stuff with Always, and also the Gillette ad that caused a lot of controversy.

The recent Super Bowl included an ad for Microsoft about inclusion, and an ad about female empowerment starring Serena Williams [for dating platform Bumble]. When you see more brands doing that, the challenge becomes how to stand out.

Despite the backlash against purpose, why do you think it endures as an effective marketing strategy?
Branding is about differentiation. If you know your target audience well and you know what your brand stands for and the company is committed to it, you should feel less concerned about a potential backlash. Often, the press tends to find problems where there is none. Well, negative press headlines sell and grab more attention than the positive ones. The Nike Kaepernick and Gillette campaigns seem to be truly committed to their cause. Gillette changing its tagline suits the brand, so I’d expect that to generate strong results over time because it’s more meaningful. The moment you do things like that there will people who dislike it. The same happens with Burger King. Not everyone liked it when we did Whopper Neutrality, or when we did Proud Whopper but they were true to the tradition of the brand. We were on the right side of history and, over time, that gave us a differentiated position in the marketplace.

What is the biggest challenge now for brands trying to embrace a more purposeful approach?

It needs to be creative so that it stands out and doesn’t get lost in the noise. It also needs to be done in a way that’s real and it needs to come from the heart.

What advice would you give for anyone considering entering the WARC Awards' Effective Use of Brand Purpose category?

If I were writing a case, I’d say the person reading it needs to understand how the purpose links back to the mission of the company or brand and also to results. The analysis needs to be detailed and factual in showing the relationship between the purpose and the results. This is really critical. Hopefully there will be more detailed results than ‘a lot of people spoke about the brand.’ As judges, we will want to see how it has shaped the brand attributes over time through sales and objectives as well as behaviour change. In an effectiveness awards programme, you need to show the numbers.

The WARC Awards are now closed for entries.