What made Burger King’s Moldy Whopper the shocking success that it is?

Well, the unconventional Burger King campaign, “Moldy Whopper” has won at least 3 awards with more accolades streaming in as we speak, including the:

  • Epica Awards’ Triple Grand Prix awards in PR, Film, Print (2020)
  • D&AD Black Pencil award for PR (2020)
  • The One Show – Gold Pencil for Print (2020)

Watch the Moldy Whopper timelapse video ad above that’s erupted to become the talk of the town when it first launched.

The campaign is said to have joined the list of iconic classics of advertising that will be talked about decades from now.

The Moldy Whopper campaign drove sales up by +14% and boosted awareness of the removal of artificial preservatives by +400%.

It also resulted in at least 8.4 billion impressions and gave Burger King $40 million in earned media!

Here are 5 key insights we gleaned from Burger King’s Moldy Burger campaign to uncover what made it a shocking success:

1) ‘Product-market fit first, then marketing’.

So they had this great campaign idea – what do you do? Go for it? 

Well, only when your product lives up to its promise. 

Burger King’s CMO, Fernando Machado had revealed in several interviews, how they intentionally put off this great advertising campaign idea for a few years to truly deliver on the promise of being 100% preservative free first. Understanding what the market wanted; ie. healthy GMO-free real food and also, the importance of authentic and truthful messaging – they decided to embark on the behemoth task of recreating the whopper to truly be preservative-free. 

Needless to say, it required strategic buy-in at the top and a coordinated transformation across the organization from operations, product development, procurement globally before ever being able to live up to its preservative-free promise much less publicizing it.

But couple that with an impactful and well-crafted story? Boom!

2) Building Burger King’s strong brand identity took clarity and consistency over time.

What did it take for Burger King to go from “zero to hero” or should we say “zero to moldy”? Well, it certainly didn’t happen overnight. It took years to build Burger King’s brand personality as a bold brand and it certainly didn’t start with the “moldy whopper” campaign. 

Built on the understanding that “no one wants to watch ads anymore”, CMO Machado intentionally embarked on a journey since 2014 to create content that was made to stand out – his key direction to his creative team and partner agencies?

  “Be bold, edgy and out to hit a nerve”. 


In fact, over the years, the board of management were getting used to the daring and edgy approach that Machado was pushing for that they were mentally primed to accept the discomfort that usually accompanied their chosen unconventional approach. And hit a nerve- they surely did.

Check out some of the other bold work they’ve done which include the “Most Liked branded tweet in 2018 when they responded to Kanye West” and the political whopper campaign ad in the UK.

3) Burger King’s focus on keeping their core product, the Whopper strong.

In a highly competitive fast food world that’s dominated by players like McDonalds with an arsenal of marketing dollars to flood the market, Burger King has to play their marketing game wisely. Spreading their advertising artillery thin will dilute impact, and it is for this reason that the whopper, Burger King’s star product remains at the forefront of their ad spend. 

“In Brazil we say that ‘you need to be careful of the small blanket’ – when you are cold and you have a small blanket, you cover your head and your feet are cold, you cover your feet and your head is cold – this is pretty much how we play with our budget. Usually, the core declines faster than your new innovation will grow, and that can really hurt your business in the long run. In the small blanket case, make sure that your core is warm.”


The Whopper is Burger King’s core and they intentionally devoted their energies and efforts to keeping their flagship or core product strong, which has paid off, in further elevating the brand as a whole. Better a confirmed hit, than multiple misses. 

4) Burger King unleashed the power of multi-talented creatives to elevate their storytelling in the Mouldy Whopper campaign.

The Mouldy Whopper campaign was the collaborative work of at least 33 creatives across the following 3 agencies; INGO Stockholm, David The Agency Miami and Publicis and production house Colony.

This approach of giving full creative license to teams of specialists to do what they each do best with their distinct expertise so as to collectively team up and deliver truly exceptional work is one that many brands may struggle with.

The rise of micromanagement on the part of clients which end up stifling their team’s creative spirit or finesse or the tendency of some clients in working with generalists who may dabble in several areas, but end up being rather average in quality each area due to a lack of depth and exposure to any one field, will not surmount to the kind of quality that brands require for their messaging to stand out. 

“Great idea and impeccable craft and you get Moldy whopper”.


Want to work with expert creative talents to elevate your brand’s story? Learn more about how Independents is innovating to connect world class teams that best fit your marketing project.  

5) Focus on one goal and be comfortable to fail at other short-term secondary goals.

It must be noted that till today, marketers are still split on whether the “moldy whopper” was a success. In a study by Ace Metrics for instance, it was found that Moldy Whopper did not induce instant cravings among gen pop viewers – with about 26% who indicated they were turned off from purchasing this burger. This is no surprise given that the ad triggered strong emotional responses – with “riveting”, “gross” being amongst the buzz reactions right after. And yet, in the attention span metric, it performed 10% better than average, with the “no preservatives” message standing out as the “Single Best thing” highlighted about the ad (although the option of choosing “nothing about this ad” was available). Burger King’s single-minded focus of leaving a memorable impression and successfully deploying shock tactics to deliver their key message of whoppers being natural food makes it a shocking success, anyday. 

This is supported by YouGov’s research of more than 2,000 consumers which found that “consideration to visitation” rates increased by 22.8% after watching this ad.

Bonus? The fact that 3% of viewers made a direct favourable comparison of the whopper relative to McDonalds despite there being no direct comparison made (perhaps a natural (and intended?) outcome in line with Burger King’s characteristic jabs at fast food competitors in the past). 

What is your take on the “Moldy Whopper” campaign?

Yay or nay? Let us know in the comments section!

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