By Steve Boehler with OKRP CSO Nate Swift
An iconic brand. Over 7,000 restaurants in over 3,000 United States cities.
A brand supported by a rich history of agencies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky, BBDO, McCann, Y&R, JWT, DMB&B, N.W. Ayer, Lowe Lintas & Partners, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi and McGarryBowen. Along with a long line of fine agencies, a legacy of work has been created. The King. The Subservient Chicken. Have it your way.
This was the backdrop that OKRP faced as they pitched earlier this year against a all-star cast of agencies to see who would be chosen to help drive Burger King into the future. Stories as rich as this come along only occasionally, so we felt obligated to catch up with OKRP Chief Strategy Officer Nate Swift to learn from the OKRP experience. Notes from our exchange follow!
The QSR space is crowded, fast paced and location dependent. And BK is dwarfed in size and investment by McDonalds. What was it about OKRP that made your agency well suited for such a challenge?
Nate: OKRP, we are proud to say, was founded with QSR blood in our veins. Our leadership team has extensive experience with brands in every segment of the restaurant category and the agency’s founding principles guide us to excellence at the speed of retail, with established records of success across multiple fast-paced categories.
Based on that experience, we know advertising isn’t just about creativity, but craft. From the onset we designed our entire approach around doing more with less. We knew right away that every piece of communication needed to build salience, relevance AND drive sales. Our team embraced that challenge and built a strategic, creative, and production process that enabled just that. We also applied this retail mindset to our client’s marketing systems, using our deep QSR experience to identify opportunities for optimization around calendar management, innovation pipelines, production efficiencies and promotional activities.
At the end of the day, our clients had a clear vision for where they wanted to go. We embraced that vision and mapped out the strategies, processes and values that would help us all get there with the realities of the marketplace, the dynamics of their organization and the tools at our immediate disposal. During the pitch process, this relentless pursuit of details demonstrated we understood not just the business of QSR but our client’s day-to-day working culture. And as we’ve brought work to market it has helped us create believers within our clients’ walls – after all, creativity inspires, but it’s craft that makes believers.
What was the key insight that drove the work?
Nate: At the end of the day, it boiled down to realizing that the consumer was the royalty, not the brand. The core insight at the center of our work is that our audience feels under-valued and is seeking more agency and affirmation in their life. Or more precisely, they feel like they offer more to the world than they get credit for. QSRs are places where people go for 20 minutes of relief and reward in a day filled with ups and downs. For our audience, these restaurants serve as a little bubble where they can take control of their day and their mood, focus on themselves and find a little bit of peace and autonomy. And for Burger King – a brand built on the value proposition of “Have it Your Way” and with imagery around royalty and power – there is a unique, ownable opportunity to demonstrate to consumers that in here, you are the king or queen. After all, you may not be able to change the world (today), but you can always hold the pickles.
What can you tell us about the strategic process the agency used to identify the insight behind the campaign?
Nate: With legacy brands, OKRP always starts from the existing foundation – we never want to throw away hard-earned, positive equities. We worked directly with current, lapsed and non-BK consumers to understand where the brand was falling flat, but more importantly what its most powerful and salient aspects were. Through a series of research initiatives including a category entry points study, a round of mobile “flash qual,” interactive brand imagery workshops and a deep dive into audience segmentation, brand tracking and sales data, we found that consumers had very strong functional associations with the brand, but very little emotional connection. This resulted in high understanding of the brand’s offerings and distinctive assets for consumers, but low salience and low relevance. We uncovered that the combination of royal imagery and the value proposition of “Have It Your Way” was seen as having the potential to lift people up and even help bring out the “king/queen” inside of them (in our own, small way, of course). Armed with strong research and sharp insights, we partnered with our clients to transfer the brand’s royal imagery to consumers. Said another way, from now on at Burger King, it’s the consumers who are the royalty, not us.
How did you know that you had nailed the right insight? The right creative?
Nate: You generally know you’ve got a meaningful insight when clients and creative teams can’t help but immediately ideate around the strategy – and that’s exactly what happened here. Consumers also helped validate the brand fit, appeal and purchase motivation along the way.
The far harder work was to take a great insight and deliver creative work that built salience, relevance and drove sales – all at once in short-form mediums that helped us maximize reach. We explored a wide range of creative concepts and campaigns, but ultimately landed on “You Rule” – an idea born of the brand, one that remains true to the brand, with one key difference – it puts our consumer at the heart of everything we do. A simple, direct articulation of the insight accompanied by a musical expression that let us quite literally sing the strategy and romance the food to the old “Have It Your Way” tune.
We are HUGE fans of the new BK work that OKRP has created. What can you tell us about the process of creating that work that may surprise us?
Nate: During a creative process, there are times where we don’t have a clear answer for weeks and then all of the sudden: “boom, we have it!” That really wasn’t the case here. For “You Rule,” there were certainly strokes of genius along the way, but getting to the insights and campaign felt somewhat inevitable. There was a sense of certainty in that we were going to solve this problem through a steady, even, iterative approach to the craft of creativity. We were clear on what we needed to accomplish for the brand and we chipped away at the problem – always improving incrementally, always learning more about the limitations and opportunities in the work. The client partnered on that journey with us, and we worked with consumers throughout. So towards the end when it all started to come together, it was – and continues to be – more of a sense of “we’re just getting started” than “wow, look at what we’ve accomplished.” We’re immensely proud of the work we’ve launched, but there is an earnest belief from both OKRP and our clients that this is just the beginning.
OKRP prevailed in the BK pitch against some of the finest agencies on the planet. What advice do you have for other agencies that may be contemplating competing against such a tough field for a large client?
Nate: Know who you are. Know why your agency is great. And lean into that 1,000%. Don’t try to overcompensate for weaknesses. Don’t try and pretend to be an agency you’re not. When you understand what makes you great and you show how your team can help the clients, just commit. And commit wholeheartedly. So as you’re evaluating whether you should enter a pitch – ask yourself: are the things we’re great at the things this client needs to be great themselves?
Here are three simple yet important questions for the agency to consider:
- Is this a category or sector you believe is the strongest area for your agency and in your DNA? If yes, go to question 2, if not, stop the process.
- Will you be able to meet and work with all of the key decision makers during the process? If yes, go to question 3, if not, stop the process.
- Is this the absolute best investment of your time and resources for the benefit of your agency and all the stakeholders? If yes, then go forward and do whatever it takes, if not, then stop the process and live to play another day.
Nate Swift is Chief Strategy Officer at OKRP. Nate brings a unique blend of ingenuity and rigor to every project he touches and truly believes that creative and strategy should be tied at the hip. At OKRP, Nate leads the strategic team with the philosophy that insights must be backed by data, and that the strategic process does not end at the brief but is present in the creative process throughout.
OKRP CSO Nate Swift
Chicago-based OKRP was named by Advertising Age for “Best Culture” in 2021 and as an “A-List Standout Agency” in 2019, is a new model, independent creative agency that practices the “high art” of selling. The agency believes everything should have an immediate energy to it, a commitment to sell and a retail sensibility regardless of category. Where others try to hide the product and sell, OKRP paints it a bright color. Where others shy away, they sing. They believe that if the work doesn’t get noticed, it won’t get sales—and if it doesn’t get sales, they haven’t done their job. OKRP has intentionally built a fully-diverse leadership team and agency, believing that diversity of thought creates better and more impactful work.
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.