Mark Ritson made me lose my love for Burger King this week, and exposed the BS of ‘cool’ ideas in the process

Chloe Hooper has always loved Burger King's marketing. But after attending a talk by Mark Ritson this week, she realised she may have fallen into the common trap of being impressed by 'cool' ideas rather than effective ones.

I love fried chicken. Not just any fried chicken; I love KFC. And it’s not just when I am hungover – give me the choice of a five-star restaurant or sharing a cheeky bucket and my genuine answer would be the latter. Now you know my secret. If only the Colonel was so forthcoming in giving away his 11 secret herbs and spices.

Despite my borderline obsession with KFC, when it comes to marketing, I have always been a huge advocate of Burger King.  And I consistently see Burger King winning awards for its campaigns – from the Google Home of the Whopper campaign which initiated the Google Home Device, to the Traffic Jam Whopper campaign, which used real-time data to detect potential buyers in a traffic jam in order to offer them a Whopper and deliver on the move. And, most recently, Whopper Detour, which sent customers to McDonald’s to redeem their one cent Whopper.

This admiration was cemented when I was fortunate enough to attend Cannes Young Lions Media Academy in 2018. I attended a session hosted by Burger King titled ‘The Rise of Hackvertising’The session explored how brands hacked into a specific zeitgeist to become part of pop culture, using a hacker’s mindset.

But this week, I attended Mark Ritson’s, ‘The review of the year that was’ at The Marketing Academy. His countdown of the top 10 moments of 2019 included sharing the importance of balancing long-term brand building with short-term sales, which is not news. However, he used Burger King and KFC to demonstrate this point, posing the question: How effective is Burger King’s short-term approach to marketing? Is sending your customers on a detour to their largest competitor actually a smart move towards brand growth?

I loved the Whopper Detour campaign, but, interestingly enough, I have never actually eaten Burger King, or as it is known in Australia, Hungry Jack’s.

Ritson proposed that KFC was the winner in this year’s battle of the brands. KFC’s main distinctive asset, or ‘code’, as Ritson calls it, is Colonel Sanders, an older gentleman who has been dead for over 40 years. Despite this, KFC has rightly not moved away from its distinctive asset, instead embracing it and revitalising the Colonel. This is beautifully highlighted in its ‘Happy Mothers Day’ campaign.

Ritson’s explanation made me realise that I have fallen into a common trap of being impressed by the ‘Cool, why didn’t I think of that’ ideas when judging others’ work. As marketers, how much are we blinded by our own bias (bullshit) when judging awards?

On reflection, I don’t think this is something that I alone am guilty of. As an industry, our perception of what is an ‘award worthy’ idea is so heavily influenced. This is built on years of creative storytelling wowing judges and ineffective judging criteria.

After the mindset shift I had this week, I am no longer as impressed as I once was by Burger King’s short-term approach. I have realised that to really make change and reward the most deserving work, we need to influence judging panels’ expectations as to what great work is. Particularly as we currently battle with how to impress judges with data and tech smarts.

We need to start respecting, for lack of a better term, the ‘boring’ campaigns, which may lack excitement, but are solid in their foundations, and effective in brand building and driving long-term results.

There needs to be more of a push from the industry to change our mindset and address our perception of what constitutes great work. This is a journey we must all go on. There has never been a more important time for creativity, we just need to ensure that effective creativity is most rewarded.

*written with a chicken wing in hand

Chloe Hooper is the national new business and marketing director at PHD


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