Did Burger King’s Super Bowl Ad Actually Work? CMO Fernando Machado Shares 10 Insights

The goals and data behind this year's most polarizing spot

Home delivery of Burger King is up about 38 percent compared to the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, CMO Fernando Machado says. Burger King
Headshot of David Griner

It was a Super Bowl ad unlike any other—for better or worse.

Burger King’s #EatLikeAndy ad in this year’s Big Game was a surreal 45 seconds of Andy Warhol silently eating a Whopper. Beyond the cryptic hashtag, there was really no sales message and definitely no punchline. It was a classic moment of found footage becoming advertising, and it was also completely baffling.

Ranked dead last in the USA Today Ad Meter, the spot seemed to get a rough response from the burger-buying public. But today, Burger King global CMO Fernando Machado penned a LinkedIn blog post that digs deep into the idea behind #EatLikeAndy and also shares metrics that he believes highlight the ad’s success in elevating the brand, potentially over the long term.

While you should definitely read the entire post yourself, we’ve shared a few of the more interesting highlights below. Let’s revisit the full Super Bowl spot first, then dive into it:

1. Andy Warhol has more digital clout than you might think

The Super Bowl ad was created by agency David Miami, whose frequent collaborations with Burger King have created classics like Whopper Neutrality and the Burning Stores campaign. David is known for defending its seemingly oddball ideas with compelling data.

Machado kicks off his post by highlighting one of these data points, which he sees as a sign that Warhol, despite dying in 1987, is far from an obscure figure in the digital world of 2019:

When we were evaluating the idea, one data point that caught our attention was the fact that, on Instagram, Andy Warhol actually has more than 4X more mentions than the combined mentions for Sarah Jessica Parker, Melissa McCarthy, Charlie Sheen, Jason Bateman, and Steve Carrel altogether (Source: Crimson Hexagon). We consider Instagram a platform that over-indexes with younger demographics and that’s why we felt that this data point was very encouraging.

He also pointed to the fact that the original video of Warhol eating a Whopper (from Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth’s 1982 art film “66 Scenes from America”) has been recreated many times since the YouTube era began.

2. Burger King wanted the ad to be a ‘silent assassin’

While it’s not too surprising that Burger King would want to keep #EatLikeAndy under wraps until the Big Game, given its quizzical and attention-grabbing nature, Machado says he did like the idea of teasing the concept a bit and then unleashing the final ad in real time.

We thought it would be better to build expectation with the teaser and only release Eat Like Andy as a surprise, a silent assassin, in the middle of the most cluttered advertising environment in the world. The spot was meant to break through the traditional Super Bowl commercial break, filled with explosions, slapstick jokes and celebrities, with an almost silent, yet powerful work of art. And that’s what happened on the second break of the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl. We had 45 seconds of ambient sound and Andy Warhol eating a Whopper. No cuts. No special effects. No music. No paid celebrities. Just Andy.

3. No, the brand didn’t expect everyone to recognize Warhol

Some skeptics were quick to point out that your average Super Bowl viewer isn’t likely to be an art history expert. But Burger King was confident that there would be a certain kind of herd effect that helped people learn Warhol’s identity from those around them, Machado says:

We never assumed everyone would know who Andy Warhol was. In fact, we believed that, since lots of people would not know who he was, our spot would sparkle a lot of debate and engagement. We also knew some people would recognize Andy Warhol. And we knew some people would even recognize where that specific piece of film came from. And, since most people watch the Super Bowl with friends (and the TV commercials are part of the entertainment for them), we did assume that someone in the group would know who Warhol was. And that would be a great conversation starter in every single Super Bowl venue.

4. If that failed, the marketing team knew search would save the day

While many viewers took to Twitter in response to the Burger King Super Bowl ad, a far larger number headed to Google. As the brand expected, searches for Andy Warhol quickly spiked beyond anything else seen around Super Bowl marketing:

Because of the unique nature of the film, if no one in your room was able to explain what the hell was happening on the Burger King spot, we knew Google and Social Media would be the immediate go-to places. People want to be in-the-know. No one wants to experience high levels of FOMO. And that’s precisely what happened. We had a massive spike in search around “Burger King” and “Andy Warhol”. Search for “Burger King” was higher than Bud Light and Pepsi. And search for “Andy Warhol” dwarfed everything else.

Google via Burger King

5. The potential fallout seemed minimal

Was everyone going to love it? No. Was everyone going to get it? No. But if they didn’t, how much trouble could Burger King really be getting itself into? Not much, wagered Machado:

Even if some disliked the spot after fully understanding it, the film was never going to offend them. It’s not like we were taking a political stance or confronting one’s belief system. One could even argue that the spot was aiming to democratize art (which is something very aligned with Warhol’s mindset). And that’s surely not a bad thing. In the end, we were basically showing a man (well… Andy Warhol) eating a burger. So, sure, some people will not be a fan, but they will not stop going to Burger King because of that.

6. Machado chalks up the Ad Meter loss to initial confusion

Critics of the #EatLikeAndy ad may point to its rock-bottom rating in the USA Today Ad Meter, but Machado says that dubious ranking was likely the result of the confusion among viewers who didn’t understand the ad or recognize its star. As we saw above, Google and comments from friends likely eventually informed some of the initially baffled viewers.

Negative sentiment reached a range from 20 to 25% in the beginning (with 75 to 80% as neutral/ positive). People were confused and debating the spot. That’s probably when most of the voting of Ad Meter from USA Today took place. And that’s probably why we ended up at the very bottom of the Ad Meter (though we are actually proud to have generated such strong feelings). Our bet was that the sentiment would shift as people started to gather more information around the campaign. This approach would probably not work in normal advertising environments, but the Super Bowl is different.

7. The ad may end up generating 5 billion media impressions

It’s no surprise the Burger King ad was a big “talker” after the game, generating coverage and debate across news outlets, talk radio and more. Machado estimates the final tally of organic impressions will end up around 5 billion.

In terms of earned media, the campaign reached more than 3 billion media impressions globally (we are still compiling the results, many countries are not yet accounted for on this number). This level of impressions is the equivalent of USD 25 to 30 million in earned media. Our assumption is that after compiling all numbers the campaign will reach around 4 to 5 billion global media impressions. Most of the impressions are neutral/ positive, which also helped shift the initial negative sentiment triggered by confusion to become overwhelmingly neutral/ positive.

8. It was a long-term play

Machado addresses the “Did it sell burgers?” question several times in his writeup, often noting that the ad was never intended to get people running out the door to buy Whoppers. If that had been the goal, he says, there were plenty of alternative approaches that would have gotten the job done:

The main objective of this campaign was to move brand attributes. We never saw this campaign as an activity to increase sales. If we simply wanted to drive short-term sales, we would have used the money to run a promotion. It’s hard to beat a big coupon drop or an aggressive promotion if you are looking for short-term sales increase. Yet, if you want to build a brand for the long run, you need to find ways to connect with people at a different level. This is even more important when it comes to connecting with younger generations. Burger King has been in the marketplace since 1954. And if we don’t aim to connect with brains, stomachs and hearts, the brand will fail to engage with people at a deeper level.

9. #EatLikeAndy had a lot of impact on Burger King’s brand image

To analyze the big-picture impact of the Super Bowl ad on its brand image, Burger King commissioned YouGov to survey 1,200 Americans about their views of the brand, then did the same survey again after the Super Bowl ad. Machado says the measurements showed strong improvement across the board, especially among those aged 18 to 34.

Here are some specific stats he shared, comparing those who had seen the Super Bowl ad to those who hadn’t:

• Talked About in the Past 2 Weeks: +49.0% (+51.1% among 18–34 years old)
• Purchase Consideration: +8.3% (flat among 18–34 years old)
• Most Likely to Purchase: +11.0% (+95.0% among 18–34 years old)
• Cool Brand: +189.4% (+167.3% among 18–34 years old)
• Feel Good About the Food: +78.6% (+96% among 18-34 years old)
• Real and Authentic: +114.2% (+153.1% among 18-34 years old)
• Brand I Associate With: +154.5% (+201% among 18-34 years old)
• Would Not Consider: -27.8% (-52.2% among 18-34 years old) *Note this is the only attribute where negative is good (the more negative it is, the less of a barrier to purchase the brand has).

10. It led to a big lift in home delivery

While Machado won’t be releasing total sales figures until the end of the fiscal quarter, he did share one metric that highlights how Burger King is booming in home delivery:

The Super Bowl teaser campaign broke home delivery sales record per restaurant in the USA multiple times since the beginning of the campaign. Burger King experienced an uplift of around 38% in home delivery sales versus the 30 days prior to the launch of the “Eat Like Andy” campaign.

As you can likely tell from all the excerpts above, Machado seems quite happy with #EatLikeAndy and its effect on brand perception—even if it wasn’t the smoothest road to success.

Part of his confidence likely comes from the fact anyone is still interested in talking about the ad so far out from the Super Bowl. “There is not much chatter around any other Super Bowl spot anymore,” he notes. “But ‘Eat Like Andy’ permeated popular culture.” Whether you like the ad or not, if you’ve just spent the past few minutes reading about it, you’d probably have to agree.

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."