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Just over a year into his job, which he took after a 15-year career with PepsiCo, Pat O’Toole has put Burger King’s signature Whopper at the forefront of several marketing efforts.

Burger King chief marketing officer Pat O’Toole emphasizes the restaurant chain’s unique qualities

The Whopper and customizability are hallmarks of the restaurant concept’s branding

The Whopper is one of the most iconic menu items in the history of American food, and Burger King chief marketing officer Pat O’Toole knows it. 

Just over a year into his job, which he took after a 15-year career with PepsiCo, he has put the Miami-based chain’s signature item at the forefront of several marketing efforts.

Some of those efforts started before his arrival, when the brand rebooted its decades-old “Have it Your Way” jingle as “Whopper Whopper.” O’Toole continued that campaign with D.J. and music producer Steve Aoki.

“It was really important for us to get people thinking and talking about the Whopper,” O’Toole said. “And we did it so effectively with the ‘Have it Your Way’ jingle and the modernization of it.”

The effort has been a huge success, with consumers making their own versions of the song and sharing it across social-media platforms. 

“That doesn’t happen very much in marketers’ careers — seeing everybody knowing, talking, and thinking about your product … and you have to take that momentum and continue to build on it.”

O’Toole has done that by emphasizing The Whopper and Burger King’s unique qualities: Its flame-broiled flavor and the fact that the chain encourages people to customize it. That was the point of the original “Have it Your Way” song and the newer tagline of “You Rule,” indicating in more modern terms that the guest is the boss.

That customizability has been reinforced with items such as the Have-sies, a combination of onion rings and fries, which O’Toole said BK was uniquely positioned to offer in the quick-service restaurant space. 

“We’re one of the only national QSRs that has onions rings,” he said. “Onion rings are great, but sometimes you want some fries, too, and having it your way means you can have both of them together.”

He said the original jingle’s lyrics of “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us” is “really powerful.”

“When they’re in a fast-food line, most people default to ‘I don’t want to impose on the crew that’s making the sandwich or the people behind me in line by having this special request.’ We said very loudly and publicly, ‘No. When you come here, we want you to leave happy. You rule. You’re ultimately in charge.’ That’s really continuing what built this brand, but articulating it in a way that resonates with modern times with modern guests.”  

And consumers rule in more ways than that, O’Toole said: They also control most of the messaging.

“I believe this is the best time to be a marketer, and the reason is consumers have so much control and power that they didn’t have back in the days when people with a big checkbook could serve their ads up on the limited amount of TV stations and help create and craft the narrative. They had the loudest voice. 

“Now consumers … can take a message and make it their own and share it out to the public. You can make a video and tell people how great this is or, in some cases, how bad an experience you had. As a marketer, it's thrilling because you have to constantly understand the perceptions of your brand, the conversations going around your brand. It can also be a very powerful tool to help you get your message out there in a big way.”

O’Toole has teamed with some consumers with the loudest voices, influencers, to promote Burger King’s latest initiative, the Million Dollar Whopper Contest, which invites consumers to do what they have always been invited to do — customize their Whopper — but this time to do it publicly and with the chance to have their version on the menu as a limited-time offer. Three finalists will be able to refine their creations before being launched as LTOs. Then the public will vote and the winner will get $1 million.

O’Toole sent press kits to some influencers with a gift in hopes that they would post about it. Others, like Owen Han, were paid to do promotional videos. 

“He makes really compelling food prep content and has his own style that relies heavily on tight shooting and natural sound,” O’Toole said. “So it’s really fun to see how he builds [his Whopper]. You hear the sizzle of the bacon and the chopping of the knife against the cutting board. It’s just a really cool way that he creates his content that resonates very well with Burger King … and with anybody who comes across his content.”

O’Toole said we can expect more promotion of The Whopper and its customizability, but also promotion of the brand’s fried chicken Royal Crispy Wraps

“Wraps have invited guests in who maybe haven’t been to Burger King Before, or not for a very long time,” he said. “It’s something that helps us cater to a guest that we hadn’t been able to cater to in the past, and so they will continue to be an important part of our strategy.”


Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

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