Quirky Marketing In the Pandemic: Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Burger King

Burger King, and its parent company, Restaurant Brands International (RBI), have been analyzing their tactics and tracking what marketing strategies are working in various geographies, and using winning ideas in other markets as well. This has kept them doing well even during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Fernando Machado, the global Chief Marketing Officer of RBI, said, these ideas range right from the basic to the more complex ones. While some ideas that Burger King has implemented are indeed innovative, none of them are rocket science – it is just a summation of small things done accurately. This brand has surely given us some important lessons that marketers can learn. 

We’ve listed some quirky marketing techniques that have helped the brand to not just survive but thrive even in this crisis. 

Reassurance Through Operational Efficiency

Thermal Screening of Staff 

When lockdown happened, the number of  takeaway orders plummeted as people were scared of getting infected with the virus. This is where Burger King did right – it gave the customers the confidence that they have their back and would do everything to keep them safe. Hence, the practice of thermal screening of the staff began in Burger King’s outlets throughout China, and soon the company adopted the same practice in the USA as well. 

Posters in Open Shops

Lockdown brought with it the closure of many shops and customers were not only wary of stepping out of the house they also did not know which shops, if at all, were open. In the European market, Burger King thus began putting up posters in front of the shops that were still serving. They found that when customers knew which stores were operational, their business did better. Thus, if you want to reach out to your customers you must find ways to let them know that you are still around and working for them. Use various media channels to let them know that they can still depend on you. 

Engage with Customers 

Creative Advertising

People are anxious and now is the time when you should engage with them with humor and creativity. This is what Burger King did quite well: 

  • Shared videos of how the Whopper could be made with ingredients that were purchased from a grocery store
  • Connected with the students by offering free Whoppers to those who found solutions to questions while homeschooling was on
  • To add the fun element to staid television shows, Burger King launched the QR Whopper television commercial that allowed viewers to scan a QR code on their screen 
  • Another advertisement not only added humor by calling the consumer a ‘Couch Patriot’ but also said that they would deliver the Whopper free if it was ordered from their app and 1 percent of the order value would be donated to the American Nurses Foundation. This advertisement, created with FCB New York, became one of the most popular PSAs about staying at home, thus helping to flatten the curve and fight the spread of the virus. It ranked third on YouTube’s leaderboard
  • Burger King also found a great alternative to outdoor advertising in the pandemic and encouraged people to use one of its billboards as their virtual backdrop during their virtual conference calls. Customers would get a free additional Whopper using a buy-one-get-one-free code. 
Source: Ad Age

Cover a Larger Delivery Network

People cannot go out and eat – they are counting on home delivery. So too with other services as well. Thus, if brands need to reach their customers, they will have to expand their delivery network. This is precisely what Burger King did in Europe – they increased their delivery radius. This helped them to make up for some of the in-store sales that they had lost out on during the lockdown.

Capture the Right Medium 

You need to get the attention of customers if you want to stay in the market. If that means tapping into a new area, then now is the time to take up the challenge. For instance, Burger King found that since people could no longer go out and play sports with friends, online gaming was becoming popular. So, advertising here made sense to the brand. Added to this was the fact that once a game began online, one could not pause it. Hence, it began exploring ideas with various gaming franchises like Twitch, for instance.

Stay Connected Across Geographies

If you are a big brand spread across multiple locations, then now is the time when all your teams must stay well connected to one another. This will help you to know what strategies are working in one market such that they can be implemented in the others as well. 

Proper Budgeting

During the pandemic, the marketing and branding world has gone through a lot of adaptation. Thus, teams have had to realign the budgets as well. Given a time like this when business is not booming, and there is uncertainty, businesses need to be prudent about where to splurge. 

Repurpose Existing Footage

While advertising does help with branding, instead of over-sending, companies need to see if they can be creative and yet keep the finances in check. RBI, which owns three brands – Popeyes, Tim Hortons, and BK – for example, has been using stock images and re-purposing of existing footage. 

Know Where and What to Advertise

For a company to stay in business, it needs to find out where to advertise and stay relevant in the market. Let us take the example of Burger King:

  • It found that orders and payments have become digital. Hence it began to focus more on digital marketing. 
  • Burger King began to advertise more about drive-through as they found that, with eating at restaurants no longer possible, this would become the popular mode of buying. 
  • It increased their home delivery service as it knew that during the lockdown people would order from the confines of their homes.

Support Customers

As Fernando Machado, now is the time when brands need to actually help people and not merely just talk about it. 

  • Burger King took large initiatives to help families in the US by giving two free kids’ meals when one adult meal was ordered via a drive-through or from the mobile app.
  • It launched various consumer-assistance programs in countries like Spain, the UK, Belgium, Chile, Germany, and many others. 
  • Burger King’s sister brands are also helping the community – Tim Hortons in Canada is giving free coffee and baked items to healthcare workers, and Popeyes’ has gotten into a partnership with ‘No Kid Hungry’, an NGO, to help families.

Keep Up the Team Spirit

When there is fear in the minds of people, businesses should reach out to their employees and offer encouragement and spread a message of optimism. This is what Burger King did. Instead of adding to the gloom, it reached its team and told them that the storm would soon end. It thus has a virtual happy hour with the teams on a weekly basis. Burger King leaders feel that this has not only kept up the spirits but it is also helping the staff slowly adapt to the change. When normalcy returns it will help them to be more flexible at work and people will be more empathetic towards one another as well. 


COVID-19 has adversely affected the entire world – right from personal choices and ways of living to the fashion in ways businesses in various sectors function. The time will soon come when things will begin to get back to normal. However, for now, brands need to adapt to the new normal, and the new normal needs businesses to come up with strategies that are quirky and creative to be able to survive this pandemic.

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