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Don’t mention the V-word
Don’t mention the V-word

“It’s made of f…ing beef right here, you see that?” The flabbergasted man from St Louis has been the victim of a prank. He has been happily eating his Burger King Whopper. Now he has been told it is an Impossible Whopper – a plant-based, meatless burger.

Burger King set up and filmed this prank as a commercial for the launch of the Impossible Whopper in its 59 St Louis stores. Such was the success of this St Louis test, that Burger King has now rolled it out to all 7,000+ US stores. 

The Impossible Burger is, in fact, vegan. But you’ll only find the v-word on one page on its website – in the guidelines to restauranteurs telling them not to use the word ‘vegan’ about Impossible’s products.

Why the coyness?

We’ll come to that, but first let’s cut to the Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas. There, Impossible is launching its Impossible Burger 2.0. 

That’s a bit odd isn’t it? Isn’t CES a tech show? Impossible’s here, because to investors, it pitches itself as a technology platform, not a food manufacturer. Its key assets is its intellectual property: its expertise in analysing and imitating animal food products. 

In this narrative, the burger is just a proof of concept. 

In Impossible’s view, there’s no food they won’t be able to match from the animal world – meat, fish, dairy. In fact, do better than match. As Impossible founder and CEO, Pat Brown says, “That’s our secret sauce – unlike the cow we are going to be getting better every single day from now until forever”.

What links these two narratives, is their crystal-clear mission.

This is to eliminate animal-meat production, by 2035. The UN estimates that 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from meat production, about the same as from all transportation. An Impossible Burger uses 96% less land, 87% less water and generates 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its beef equivalent. Eating less or no meat is the most impactful change you can make as an individual to reduce one’s negative environmental impact.

Impossible wants to make money – gargantuan amounts of money.

It has to, to justify the bets of its venture capital investors (the company is valued at $2 billion). But that’s not why it was founded, or why it’s in business. Pat Brown formed the company because “the way to solve the most important and urgent problem humanity has ever faced turned out to be to figure out how to make the best burger on earth.” So, alongside the VC investments are those from philanthropists like Bill Gates and the Open Philanthropy Project. 

The notion of meat substitutes is hardly new.

Think Quorn or the Linda McCartney range, for example. Impossible is not interested in their market: vegetarians and vegans. If your goal is to reduce meat consumption, you have to convert meat-eaters. And that means offering them something just as good as the real thing. Just as the man in St Louis found.

You don’t have to have as big an ambition, to see the electrifying value of having a big ambition. 

Impossible wants to save the world, not sell burgers to vegetarians. Everything it does, and says, flows from that.

There are many lessons to be drawn from Impossible, but one that applies to any business and any cause is, find your story. Know what you are (and what you aren’t), and communicate that with conviction and authenticity.

It’s not the sizzle, it’s the steak.

We hold occasional (free) half-day workshops on our boat for charities and other not-for-profit organisations who want to explore finding and telling their story, and other communications and fundraising challenges. If you are interested, please contact lionel@hope.agency


Michael Isaacs

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