Earlier this year, fast-food giant Burger King announced a brand identity revamp – a first in 20 years – that veered towards a more simple, minimal design language. The exercise involved a new logo, packaging and employee uniforms.
Cut to now, where the ongoing Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2021 saw an online session explaining the journey behind Burger King’s identity overhaul. Coming together to elaborate on this were Lisa Smith, executive creative director, and Sara Hyman, CEO – North America, at Jones Knowles Ritchie, (the agency behind the new design) and Paloma Azulay, global chief brand officer at Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Horton’s. Also a part of the session was Ellie Doty, chief marketing officer at Burger King.
Hyman said that the project never came to the agency in a 'We need to rebrand' way. “The initial challenge was ‘how do we elevate quality perceptions of Burger King? We tried hard not to touch the identity; it was about taking the assets we had and leaning into the challenge”. However, it became obvious in a couple of months that using the elements they had to tell impactful, authentic stories wasn’t cutting it, she said.
“While Burger King’s creative and communication were so brave, the design wasn’t,” explained Smith. She said the colours at the restaurants were all different, the packaging didn’t marry the overall experience, and the logo didn’t go with the rest of the pieces, making the entire identity disjointed. “If you’re looking to improve the quality and change the perception of a brand, design is the first place to start.”
Smith went on to explain the nitty-gritty of the existing design. “They had so many colours and typefaces in their toolkit that were used in different ways; some felt screen printed while some felt more modern. Honestly, if you want to be iconic, distinctive and recognisable, less is probably better!” she said.
The starting point
The agency then went on to audit which of the brand’s valuable equities could be married with its ethos and philosophy to create something modern and fresh. While diving deep into this exercise in Burger King’s history, Jones Knowles Ritchie ended up back in 1954. The team took a look at all of the brand’s communication – TV commercials, jingles, going as far as buying everything available on eBay – vintage pin badges, cups, mascots –anything that could give the agency a glimpse of the brand’s history.
“Burger King knew who it was and knew how it wanted to carry itself in tone; it just didn’t have the language to do it,” Hyman said.
Hereon, Smith explained how the agency created four design principles for the brand as follows:
Mouthwatering: The design had to look as ‘craveable’ as the food
Playfully irreverent: Dialing up Burger King’s playfulness, wit and fun factor
Big and bold: Bringing the challenger brand’s audacity and gravitas to life
Proudly true: Being honest and transparent about who the brand is and what it brings to the world
At this point, Azulay stepped in to explain the brand’s side of the story. “In general, a rebrand is a big undertaking that can be irresponsible or responsible. It is key to understand what the purpose for the change is.” Azulay explicitly mentioned how this wasn’t just a fun design exercise for Burger King. Approaching it that way would have been a disaster for the brand; there is always the risk of trashing a brand’s goodness just for the sake of creating something new and having fun with design, she cautioned.
“The exercise was really about covering the essence of the brand through every aspect – packaging, menu boards, digital apps and signage – in a way that could work in 100 countries simultaneously,” said Azulay.
Hyman stated that the agency had its work cut out for itself in terms of the challenge. “So much of what a brand like Burger King does in a marketing sense is timely. It is about tapping into a culture and about being there in the moment in an authentic way. With the rebrand, we knew we wanted to get that balance right,” she said.
The agency wanted to create something timeless and balanced. However, it was also important for the identity to be agile and flexible so the brand could show up in interesting and irreverent ways, Hyman said.
“The logo is probably the best to talk about; it’s so easy to see in our old logo just how much we have going on. It had layers of colours, treatments upon treatments – absolutely the thing to do in the 90s,” said Dody. “Unlike a lot of other brands, we have a lot to draw on in terms of the way our customers think about our interactions with our brand from the past.”
The agency conducted studies wherein they asked consumers to remember the logo marks. The result? More people drew the logo inside the buns from memory, quite unlike what it looked like in 1999. “That just showed us how embedded it is in our culture,” said Smith. “You shouldn’t throw away your valuable equities; that isn’t the point of a rebrand.”
Dody says it’s easy for people to think that the brand has gone back to the old logo, and in some ways, it has. Herein, she gave the ‘haircut’ or ‘eyebrows’ analogy: when people get their hair or eyebrows done, one can’t tell what’s changed but everyone knows the person looks a lot better. “In this case, we modernised the logo. It is the old logo, but with its eyebrows done!”
Azulay recalled the first time she took a look at the new identity. “It felt like a slap. They took out everything that wasn’t Burger King, and left behind…Burger King!” She believes that removing everything unimportant is the essence of good work. Today, she is convinced that the new visual identity represents the best of the brand’s food, colour and freshness of its ingredients.
“We’ve got the barbeque brown, the flaming orange, fiery red, crunchy green and the melty yellow – it’s the dissection of the Whopper,” said Smith. “The macro photography has multiple depths of field with no retouching, so you can see every imperfect detail in the bun, burger, or the pickles,” said Smith.
Dody remembered how the new identity came to life when it went public. “It was in the way PR talked about it and how people generated a ton of engagement on Twitter.”
Adding to this, Hyman recalled being nervous about the launch. “You’ve been working on this for almost two years. You don’t know which way it’s going to go when the big reveal moment comes. Is the world going to fall in love with it or is the keyboard warrior going to come out?”
The launch turned out to be successful in terms of numbers. Burger King’s identity revamp got 1.1 billion impressions in the first five days. “While the advertising industry is used to numbers on this scale, this doesn’t usually happen for branding and design,” Smith said. The brand also saw an 8% uptake in the brand’s stocks in the first couple of days, in addition to a 39% and 66% increase in visitation and purchase intents, respectively.
The future is branding
“It was amazing to see how this became a global story. A look at marketing all over the world today tells us how it is important to find a balance between having global consistency and staying true to a brand’s local relevance in each country. Success for us is to see Burger King as a part of pop culture and the only way to do it is by allowing people to have fun,” Azulay said.
According to Hyman, a closer look at today’s generation reveals that it wants to relate to brands and is looking for a two-way dialogue with them. Dody summarises this as more of going from a “kingdom to a fandom” in the most democratic way possible. Smith said that brands need to become more multi-dimensional starting with curating interesting, diverse teams. In closing, Azulay hopes that Burger King never has to change the logo again, much like Coca-Cola and Nike who have never really changed their logos over the years.