PR disasters over its part-time staff, media coverage of BSE health
fears and now a major disagreement over creative strategy among Burger
King’s top executives. 1995 hasn’t been too kind to the fast-food chain.
Harriet Marsh reports
‘We’ve only just begun - there’s a whole lot more that is going to
happen,’ enthused Keith Snelgrove, Burger King’s marketing director for
Europe, Middle East and Africa, to Marketing in June this year.
Six months down the line, after strategic zigzagging over target markets
and several headline-hitting advertising executions, Snelgrove is gone,
victim to his own prediction, amid rumours of creative disagreements
with vice-president of operations Craig Bushey.
All in all, it’s been a bad year for Burger King. The company is
currently struggling to retaliate against media preoccupation with BSE.
In September, it was exposed for victimising student workers with ‘zero
hours contracts’, where they could be kept hanging around restaurants
during quiet periods without being paid. The practice was scrapped after
And the latter half of the year has also been plagued by rumours that
parent company Grand Metropolitan could be looking for buyers for the
Burger King operation.
Grand Met chief executive George Bull attempted to scotch the rumours
earlier this month, praising the company for ‘better than average sales
growth’ and ‘a record number of stores opening this year’ but, while the
market buzz has abated, Bull did not issue a full-scale denial.
And despite fighting talk, McDonald’s continues to dominate the market,
with 620 restaurants in the UK against Burger King’s 365.
The troubled fast-food chain’s annus horribilis has now been topped off
with the sudden departure of Snelgrove who, at 35, has spent the last 12
years fighting Burger King’s battles.
Snelgrove joined the burger outfit as marketing manager for the
Minneapolis region. His steady career progression culminated in his
appointment as director of marketing, Europe, Middle East and Africa in
After his appointment, Snelgrove recruited former McDonald’s marketer
Samantha Smith as UK marketing director for her skill in dealing with
franchisees (Burger King is 75% franchised to McDonald’s 20%) and
proclaimed his determination to trounce the competition.
Snelgrove and Smith’s strategy was to drop Saatchi & Saatchi and the
‘You got it’ campaign and to award BK’s pounds 23m pan-European account
to DMB&B; Smith had acted as a consultant to DMB&B on the pitch before
her appointment at Burger King.
The agency’s first execution was a comparative campaign which came out
in Burger King’s favour thanks to a 60% size increase in BK’s burgers. A
similar campaign netted a 13% increase in customers in the US. It was a
traditional Burger King campaign, focusing on the product and using an
easing of comparative advertising rules to take a swipe at arch-rival
But in November Snelgrove rolled out a second campaign, targeted at
youth, which was shown throughout Europe on MTV.
Coinciding with Burger King’s sponsorship of the European Music Awards,
the campaign, set in an Orwellian future devoid of Burger King, featured
a girl who was inspired by finding a 20th century Burger King ad. It
introduced the strapline: ‘Aren’t you hungry now’.
It was this ad, a radical move away from Burger King’s blanket targeting
approach, that is rumoured to have set sparks flying between Snelgrove
and Craig Bushey, senior vice-president of operations for Europe, Middle
East and Africa, and led to the marketing director’s departure. Insiders
suggest both the personalities and marketing approaches of Bushey and
Snelgrove were incompatible.
Snelgrove is described as an intuitive marketer, unafraid to break the
rules. Bushey, who joined the company in September, is from the old
school of advertising, believing the product is king, or as one source
says, ‘the burger has to be shown at least a dozen times in an ad to
make it a good one’.
Crew members and captains
Both men have risen up through the company ranks, but while Snelgrove’s
background is marketing, Bushey has 20 years’ experience in sales and
He started as a crew member and progressed through restaurant, franchise
and operational management, working as vice-president operations/sales
for the Central Region in the US prior to his promotion to Europe.
Before its airing in Europe, the MTV ad was shown to senior executives
at Burger King’s head office in Miami. Bushey, who had already made his
distaste for the ad clear, did not want it seen by European consumers,
but with a reported pounds 1m price tag it could hardly have been
Following the meeting, Paul Clayton, vice-president of worldwide
marketing, left with a situation where the vice-president of Europe,
Middle East and Africa disliked his own advertising, put the ad into
This proved successful enough for it to be shown, principally on MTV,
with only brief airings on ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.
Although insiders suggest that Snelgrove always viewed the campaign as a
one-off execution for the youth market, after Miami it seemed that his
relationship with Bushey had deteriorated beyond repair.
Following Snelgrove’s abrupt departure (he has apparently returned to
the US to pursue personal and professional interests), the marketing
role falls into Bushey’s remit, pending a replacement marketing
Snelgrove’s fall from grace within Burger King appears to be largely the
result of his strained relationship with Bushey, but also indicates that
in the UK market the advertising has to be the kind that keeps the
franchisees happy. They are paying not just for the Burger King brand,
but also for the marketing and advertising support that can put people
in their restaurants.
If this results in a backpedalling away from ‘trendy’ advertising,
toward the traditional path (with a post-BSE emphasis on product quality
the odds-on favourite) then Bushey’s intervention is likely to be
supported by the franchisees.
Understandably, they favour product-driven campaigns, with strong below-
the-line support for the off-high street shops.
By taking on the weight of the franchisees and Bushey’s dislike for non
product specific ads, it appears that Snelgrove bit off more than he