How FCB Continued Burger King’s Epic Trolling Legacy With a 1-Cent Whopper Deal

The brand’s app launch was a success and hit the No. 1 spot on iOS

Burger King gets under McDonalds' skin again with "Whopper Detour." - Credit by Burger King
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To the layperson, it may seem relatively easy to put together an app that includes geotargeting. Of course, there’s much more to it than merely adding location services to the technology, and FCB’s team took it several steps further by helping Burger King’s app troll their biggest competitor, McDonald’s, in yet another stunt that received tons of attention.

“Whopper Detour” was a fairly intuitive idea that fits the ethos of the brand: any customer on the app, within 600 feet of one of the 14,000 McDonald’s locations in America, could unlock a deal for a 1-cent Whopper. The stunt made the rounds on the news, and Burger King became No. 1 in the Apple App store. As of today, the app sits at No. 11, still no small feat and way ahead of McDonald’s, which is at No. 46.

This isn’t the first time that BK has gone the trolling or stunt route, and it’s safe to say it won’t be the last as long as the brand’s CMO, Fernando Machado, occupies the seat.

We caught up with the FCB team to learn how it all happened.

Adweek: How did the idea for this stunt evolve?
Ari Halper, CCO, FCB NY: We have “lunch and learns,” and Waze had come by to show us a bunch of things that were possible on the platform. One of the FCB teams came up with the idea, and we thought it could be perfect for a client like Burger King. We ended up working with Waze to get the idea into a good place, then brought it to the client to see if they would be interested, and they pounced. … They loved it … especially because they had a brief on the table that they hadn’t been able to crack … [of] how to promote the new Burger King app with order ahead functionality.

Gabriel Schmitt, GCD, FCB NY: We love to define ideas in one sentence. [In this case], it was creating a Whopper that someone can only order at McDonald’s. That’s half a sentence, but we knew something was there.

What were some of the other ideas the agency was kicking around?
Schmitt: When we presented this to them in October of 2017, they pretty much didn’t want to listen to anything else—and I think rightly so.

So you’ve hit on a great idea. What happened next?
Halper: Well, then it became, “How the hell do we develop the technology into the app?” That took the lion’s share of the time. … By the time we got to August [2018], we had started to get closer [with the functionality] and then we were able to hone in on the craft and all of the elements.

"When we presented this to them in October of 2017, they pretty much didn’t want to listen to anything else—and I think rightly so."
—Gabriel Schmitt, GCD, FCB NY

What were some of the other bumps along the way?
Adam Isidore, director of integrated production, FCB New York: Usually when you start a production, you’re trying to line up the best director. But we had to ask who the best legal counsel was. At first, all the lawyers said, “No, don’t do this to me.” From that point, we enlisted the lawyers to become co-creators with us. We said, “If we don’t want to get arrested, what are some things we might want to do?” We learned the laws of different states about recording people without the other person knowing they’re being recorded, and we ended up filming in New York, which allows that.

But this is all meant to be in good fun, right?
Schmitt: We’re doing this to make a point and to make the promotion as juicy and PR-able as possible from a business standpoint, but we didn’t want to put any McDonald’s employees in a tough position at all, and we made sure that we were changing their voices and protecting their identities in the film.

Henna Kathiya, integrated producer: It was high-pressure, but it was fun and awesome to see people laugh so much. It’s great to work on something that you can all have so much fun doing at the same time.

Halper: As Fernando [Machado] puts it, fast food is inherently a very fun category, so we wanted to ensure that it was good-natured and that there was nothing mean-spirited about it.

What is it like to work with a client like this?
Halper: [Global head of brand marketing] Marcelo [Pascoa] and Fernando are a rare breed. We felt like we co-created this and it’s like having creatives on the other side of the table. They like to keep it small. They wanted to keep the agency team small and kept it small on their end so that the conversations and approvals could happen quickly. It’s ironic that, while all of it went fast, the totality of it took over a year.

Schmitt: It’s refreshing because our agendas are the same. We all want to do the most memorable work as possible to drive business results. The PR is important, but we wanted to ensure that we got as many downloads as we could for them.

Speaking of PR, what were the expectations on impressions, knowing that that is an integral part of a win?
Halper: We were at Burger King’s PR firm [ABMC]. They would never guarantee more than 500 million impressions. On this one, however, they promised at least a billion. We knew that it was going to get a reaction but what really surprised us were the tangible results. The real KPI, at the end of the day, was app downloads and to the number one [slot] on both the iOS App Store and Android App Store for three days in a row is insane.

What will you do for a follow-up?
Halper: We’re already starting to talk and think about it.

Isidore: We can neither confirm nor deny that there have been talks about. … I’m sorry, that’s all I can say.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.