Burger King Global CMO Fernando Machado Explains International Women’s Day Tweet Misfire

After Burger King’s International Women’s Day tweet got grilled for resonating as sexist, the company’s global chief marketing officer says it was “obviously not our intent” to offend.

The burger brand launched a new IWD campaign on Monday to announce it is investing in scholarships to develop women’s culinary skills in the U.S., U.K., Mexico and elsewhere. When just 24% of U.S. chefs and 7% of head chefs are women, the goal was to help close the gender gap. Those good intentions, however, were distracted from because of a single tweet from Burger King U.K.: “Women belong in the kitchen.”

In a follow-up tweet, Burger King U.K. continued: “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career.” But by then, its intentions were already cooked.

“I think there are many lessons on this one,” says Restaurant Brands International CMO Fernando Machado, who is also global CMO for Burger King, an RBI subsidiary. “In the end we are indeed doing something positive, but the headline we used ended up offending people, especially when used without the context around it. Hopefully over time, thanks to the actions we are taking and will continue to take, people will see that our intention was positive.”

It’s not every day that Burger King gets flamed. The tweet was a rare misfire for the fast-food chain, which has a track record of successful-but-risky campaigns, from spotlighting moldy burgers to delivering food to people stuck in traffic jams to gassy cows to making a “Whopper”-scented cologne.

While the IWD campaign also ran in the U.S., it took a different format: Burger King took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, one that featured the “Women belong in the kitchen” tagline, alongside an explanation. The post from the company’s U.K. Twitter handle was followed by an explanation, but most users, outraged by the content of the first tweet, didn’t scroll to the second.

The company later tweeted an apology and additional explanation, but abusive comments in the replies prompted it to delete the original post.

Burger King has several women in leadership roles across its marketing teams. The company’s U.S. CMO, Ellie Doty, joined in June, and its marketing chiefs in the U.K. and Spain are also women. Machado points out that other RBI restaurant subsidiaries like Popeyes and Tim Hortons also have female CMOs.

“By no means am I saying we are perfect when it comes to representation,” Machado said. “But we are making good progress toward having teams that are more diverse.”

Some observers from the marketing world say Burger King’s campaign had the right intention, but didn’t match the tone of the moment. Mindy Sears, group creative director at the marketing agency RAPP, says the pandemic has already taken away a lot from women.

“With our reality right now during this pandemic, so many women have lost scholastics and daycare support,” Sears says. “And now since last year, 2 million women have left the labor force. So they don’t have the support that they had and they’re not able to work the way they want to work.”

The original tweet raised awareness about the gender disparity even if the execution lacked sensitivity, says Tynesha Williams, executive creative director of the creative studio 3AM. However, she says it would have been better if the first sentence had been combined with the follow-up explainer in the same tweet — with space in between.

People shouldn’t be too hard on Burger King, Williams says. She adds that it’s important to remember the company is “not a reckless brand” and that it has a good track record of standing up for social issues such as Black Lives Matter.

“There are some times when brands just go for the joke,” she says. “They weren’t going for the joke. They were making a point for a good cause. So I know we’re in cancel culture and we’ve got to be careful with that. I’ve seen some bananas stuff out there. But they’re not that brand, and they have a history of not being that brand.”


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