'We can take on the world and do it better', says Burger King NZ marketer

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 17 October 2018

This is from the October issue of AdNews Magazine. To see it in-print first, and to support AdNews, see here. 

From Sega to IBM, McDonald’s and Burger King, James Woodbridge has had quite the career.

He has been general manager of marketing at Burger King NZ for five years, however, Woodbridge actually kicked off his FMCG marketing career at arch nemesis McDonald’s New Zealand in 2001.

With four years under his belt at Maccas, hungry for more, he jetted off for a Budapest–based McDonald’s role in 2005.

New Zealand may have lost the top marketer to the Golden Arches in Europe for almost a decade, with Woodbridge scooping up top jobs such as VP and CMO McDonald’s Germany and Europe West, but in 2013 it was time to order something new.

AdNews caught up with the Kiwi marketer to find out what lured him back home, got his take on the much-talked-about McWhopper stunt in 2015 that created global headlines, and questioned why he’s never hopped across the ditch to dabble in the Aussie marketing world. 

 James Woodbridge 

Why return to NZ and what did you miss about the NZ industry?

When my youngest boy couldn’t figure out if he was Hungarian or German, we knew it was time to come home. I assume like many colleagues, returning to NZ is a trade–off between lifestyle and professional opportunity. However, New Zealand has some really talented and world–class folks so you can build highly competent teams. It’s just hard to find all the right people.

What I missed most were free thinkers – people less constrained by brand guidelines and comfortable to ask for forgiveness after the fact. The aspiration to innovate and coach people to think beyond the brand guide is where a small market like NZ excels. Until you test yourself on the world stage you’ll never appreciate the potential you have.

What’s the best thing about being a marketer in New Zealand?

To rise to the top in NZ you have to develop a broader understanding of your business, which in larger markets often doesn’t happen. The scale of larger markets means people tend to specialise and become professionally siloed. In New Zealand you have no choice but to deal with broader business issues. When I left Europe I was responsible for NZ$7.5 billion of annual revenue and to grow that kind of number sustainably, means you have to have a clear understanding of all aspects of the business, not just within the marketing discipline. New Zealand can give you that training.

McWhopper; what an idea. Can Burger King flip it again?

McWhopper was a powerful idea that originated in NZ with our agency, Y&R. I recognised from the outset it had the legs to support the brand globally, not just in NZ. So we opened the door for Y&R to pitch it to the BK global team. Its awarded success was phenomenal, however, we all know that awards count for nothing unless they are underpinned by actual business growth.

We ran a local campaign called ‘Backyard Burger King’ which had a greater impact on our brand in NZ than McWhopper ever had. If there is one thing I have learned developing marketing strategy across Europe, is that the closer you are to local insights and the more locally relevant you become, the greater your chance of success.

See: AdNews Agency of the Year reborn: a new era for industry awards

What was ‘Backyard Burger King’?

We wanted to remind people that all our burgers are flame grilled so we gave fans a chance to cook their own Whoppers in their back gardens. Working with our agency at the time, Colenso BBDO, across four months we gave away 50 Backyard Burger King kits. Each kit contained ingredients to make 16 Whoppers, along with customised cooking utensils, hat, apron, matches and an illuminated sign. We received more than 20,000 applications from 83 different countries and grew people’s belief that our burgers really were flame grilled by 42%.

Backyard Burger King kit:

What is it that draws the people, talent and great ideas to NZ?

Kiwis are less conservative and are prepared to take greater risks. It’s cultural. We’re a niche market of four million consumers and when some US or European colleagues show a map of the world, NZ is often missing. We know we’re the rounding error on any global sales results and there is a feeling that we are out of sight, out of mind. Hey, if we get it wrong we’ll ask for forgiveness. The reality is, we have an innate confidence that we can take on the world and do it better.

What are your proudest moments at Burger King NZ?

Backyard BK was a massive success for my team. It captured hearts and minds and generated huge talk. And when 10% of respondents came from places as far flung as Bordeaux, the Maldives, New York and Norway, you know your insight is working overtime for you.

What are the biggest challenges you face in NZ as a marketer?

Depth of talent, work ethic and budgets. The biggest frustration is knowing what we should be doing, but the scale of the business does allow us to move as fast as we would like — constrained by budgets and talent. The New Zealand lifestyle and attitude, although a strength, is also our weakness. Although folks think NZ is a competitive labour market, it is not when compared to large markets where ambitious people are prepared to work a lot harder to move ahead.

Where do most of your marketing dollars go?

TV, but this is constantly evolving.

What’s the state of play with your agency relationships?

Y&R have been our media agency for years and in June this year we consolidated media, creative and production together.
What are the priorities for the rest of the year? Tech–based priorities are leading the way. E–commerce, CRM, food delivery and kiosks are taking the lion’s share of our focus — all of which are in different states of deployment. The retail face of the food business is transitioning faster than at any time in the last 20 years. In a traditional sense, the two strategies absorbing my time are media transition and CRM.

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