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Why Burger King’s Google Home Activation For The Whopper Worked

"For us, the worst thing that can happen is not to get noticed," says Fernando Machado, Head of Brand Marketing, Burger King.

Last April, an ad campaign promoting Burger King’s Whopper set off Google Home devices by asking its personal digital assistant what the quick serve restaurant chain’s signature product was.

Within hours, Google “blocked” devices from recognizing the question.

While it seemed as if the campaign were cut short, Fernando Machado, Head of Brand Marketing at Burger King, said that the effort, which was created by the chain’s creative partner, DAVID The Agency, was deemed a clear success.

Burger King’s Fernando Machado speaking at Tuesday’s Ad Club

“We just went for it,” said Machado, who was honored as “marketer of the year “at the Advertising Club of NY’s Ad People 2017 event on Tuesday.

“We are always looking for innovative ways to get people to talk about our brand and our products,”Machado said. “When David The Agency came up with the idea to promote the Whopper, our most iconic product, we knew from the beginning it would get people talking and would be topical.”

Miami-based Burger King, which runs about 7,000 outlets in the U.S., engaged in one of the first ads directed at a voice-activated assistant by taking its message right to Google Home, the search giant’s voice-activated digital assistant that it unveiled last fall. The device is prompted by the phrase, “Okay, Google.”

In the spot (a 15-second YouTube version is here), a Burger King cashier addresses the audience saying that there’s too many “delicious ingredients” in the Whopper to list in a short commercial. So, instead, the cashier leans in to the camera and says, “But I’ve got an idea: Okay, Google, what is the Whopper Burger?”

Even though Google prevented its devices from responding to the prompt, the ad got more than 10 billion impressions around the globe, with the U.S. leading the charge, Machado said.

“Personal digital assistants is much bigger here than in other markets. But it got talkability everywhere,” Machado told GeoMarketing. “Sometimes, this kind of idea is bigger than you expect, sometimes not. You can’t predict it. The important thing for us is just to do it and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen? For us, the worst thing that can happen is not to get noticed. And this campaign certainly got noticed.”

Anselmo Ramos, founder and chief creative officer of Miami’s DAVID The Agency, said that the spot was indicative of Burger King’s irreverent, try-anything spirit.

“Hey, what if for the first time, we do a commercial that activates the Google Home device on purpose,” Ramos said after a humorously “roasting” Machado at the Ad Club event. “That would be a first. We don’t know the limits of technology. Will some people be okay with this kind of interaction? Some people might hate it. Some people might love it. But we won’t know anything if we don’t try it. And by that alone, we succeeded.”

Anselmo Ramos, DAVID The Agency, “roasts” Ad Club Marketer of The Year honoree Fernando Machado of Burger King.

The experimentation with Google Home’s ability to “listen” to prompts reflects wider changes coming from voice-activation.

A report from Forrester this past spring warned that it was high time for CMOs to face the facts that digital advertising has not worked when it comes to engaging consumers and that the emerging role of voice-activated digital assistants and the connected intelligence that powers the devices by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will lead to only further breakdown of traditional marketing models.

The report, The End Of Advertising As We Know It? by Forrester analysts James McQuivey and Keith Johnston, posits a “great unraveling” of advertising that’s coming with the new models taking as much as $2.9 billion away from display advertising in the next year.

Neither Machado or Ramos expressed any concern about the role of voice-activation and connected home devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home.

“Is this the end of advertising? I don’t think so,” Machado said. “New technology has always opened doors for advertising. This represented a creative way to get the message out, a new way to reach our target audience, to reach our fans. That’s how we see technology: a chance to develop bigger idea that can be deployed across different channels.”

This kind of work takes us back to the Mad Men days a little – without the drinking, at least, Ramos added.

“When you look at radio, everybody understands how to write a spot that hits all the emotional spots,” Ramos said. “With Google Home, no one knows. It’s no territory. So we need to guess and learn. Luckily, we have a great client in Burger King that is willing to embrace new ideas, new technology.”