All hail the king! Anselmo Ramos has become a master of leveraging social topics to help build brands on the global stage. As creative chief at Ogilvy's David agency, he oversaw the "Proud Whopper" campaign for Burger King. That push featured the chain's signature flame-broiled Whopper but in a rainbow wrapper with the message, "We are all the same inside." Tied to Gay Pride festivities, the burgers were briefly available at two stores, in San Francisco and New York, while a resulting video generated 7 million views and 1.1 billion media impressions worldwide. "Proud Whopper" went on to win a Grand Clio Award and at Cannes scored an incredible 13 Lions, including three golds.
"At first, it was an easy sell—the clients immediately loved it," said Ramos. "But then there was a lot of convincing internally—it's a controversial topic for any brand, particularly a QSR brand. But if Burger King is about welcoming everyone just the way they are, then we need to welcome every single person, regardless of their color, origin, social class, politics, religion or sexual preference."
Ramos chatted with Adweek about the influential campaign's development, execution and impact.
Adweek: How did you develop the "Proud Whopper" concept?
Anselmo Ramos: We wanted to move from the main functional promise of "Have It Your Way" to a more people-centric message that said "Be Your Way." To test the new territory, we decided to generate some ideas as proof of concepts. In that very first round, "Proud Whopper" was born along with the "We are all the same inside" line. Connecting with the LGBT community seemed like the ultimate test for the "Be Your Way" positioning.
Was the concept refined over time? Did it go through stages?
The idea got a lot better along the way, which is what usually happens. When we realized that the wrapper was our core piece of communication, we invested a lot in it. It was a challenge to print on both sides of the wrapper, but we managed to find a way. It was worth it because people loved the wrapper so much that they wouldn't throw it away. Some wrappers were even sold on eBay for about $1,000. The film production also took the idea to another level. We decided on filming the spot in a raw documentary style, filming people's reactions during San Francisco's Pride Week. We received very emotional and passionate responses, both in favor and against "Proud Whopper." The client was bold enough to include people who criticized the idea and didn't support the LGBT community in the film.
Can you talk about the scope of the campaign?
The idea dictated the scope. The "Proud Whopper" was a limited time offer and was only available during Pride Week in two Burger King restaurants in San Francisco and New York. We printed enough wrappers to cover those two stores over a couple of days. We also printed rainbow crowns, which became a hit during the parade. We dressed up the stores with posters communicating this new Whopper launch without saying what was different about it so we could generate curiosity. And then we focused on San Francisco for the film, since it's the most emblematic city when it comes to LGBT rights.
Were you nervous about how it would go?
Even though we had a good feeling about this one, we never know how these ideas will perform. We only realized we had something very special in our hands on the first shoot day during Pride Week when we saw how people reacted to the idea. People would either love or hate the idea, but no one was indifferent. There was this one great scene with a girl who said, "It's the same shit," but we thought the client would never go for it. So we told the client we would remove that bit, but their answer was: "Over my dead body." So the scene stayed.
Were you surprised the effort went viral?
We're always surprised when anything we do goes viral. For "Proud Whopper," we had no specific goals for video views or media coverage.
What did you learn last year as a Clio juror, and does that inform your work moving forward?
It was such an intensive experience and I learned a lot, met interesting people and heard different perspectives. Being surrounded by great jurors can open your eyes during a discussion and make you change your mind about an idea. Also, after being through an intense judging experience, you're able to clearly identify trends, so you then avoid them and instead create your own. I can go to my team now and say things like, "Team, please no more ideas with drones, 3-D printers or the Oculus Rift, OK?"
What's the big lesson for brands looking to leverage social causes?
Nowadays, it seems like every brand is talking about a social cause, so the first step is to take an honest look at your brand positioning and see if it makes sense to explore a social theme. If it does, then look for an idea that only your brand can do. Take a stand. Have a clear point of view. Be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will like it. And then cross your fingers.
This story first appeared in the June 6, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.