Mass Marketing is Dead, Decrees McDonald's Marketer

18 June 2004

And lo the word was handed down, engraved not upon a tablet of stone, but in a series of sound bites delivered to eager acolytes at the New York Sheraton Hotel and Towers -- Manhattan's air-conditioned equivalent to Mount Sinai.

Addressing the AdWatch: Outlook 2004 conference, McDonald's chief marketing officer Larry Light proclaimed that "mass marketing no longer works". Also that "no single ad tells the whole story" -- with which latter assertion not even a flunked high-school student would disagree.

Effective marketing at McDonald's, declared Light, would henceforth center around "brand journalism" -- a technique he defined as recording "what happens to a brand in the world". This credo, he prophesied, signals "the end of brand positioning as we know it."

He continued: "Any single ad, commercial or promotion is not a summary of our strategy. It's not representative of the brand message. We don't need one big execution of a big idea. We need one big idea that can be used in a multidimensional, multilayered and multifaceted way."

[Or as David Ogilvy put it three decades back: "What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it."]

McDonald's, said Light, wants to deliver its I'm Lovin' It message in four cultural languages: sports, fashion, music and entertainment. [Ogilvy: "Advertisers who believe in the selling power of jingles have never had to sell anything."]

To achieve Light's delivery goal, the burger behemoth is using many platforms and has reallocated its advertising budget. Two-thirds of that budget was previously dedicated to prime-time broadcast TV. That figure is now just one-third.

"If [you as advertisers] are going to declare a new direction, close the door on the past and announce your future," Light counselled his audience. "Don't be subtle about it."

Some industry observers are non-committal about Light's ad strategy and the extent to which it has contributed to the improvement in McDonald's fortunes over the past twelve months.

If nothing else, Big M has poured more advertising dollars into its efforts, upping spend to $577 million (€480.59m; £315.96m) in 2003 from $572m the year prior.

But analysts are doubtful whether advertising should take the lion's share of the credit, citing other key factors such as store design, better menus driven by new salads, the resurgent economy and other factors. [All but one of which, as the immortal Ogilvy knew -- but perhaps never said -- constitute the successful marketing mix.]


Separately at the AdWatch conference: Attendees heard a similar thesis proclaiming the imminent demise of mass marketing. Tim Hanlon, svp and director of TV 2.0 at media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, said advertising now extends beyond traditional 30-second TV commercials.

Advertising dollars are increasingly migrating to electronic games operated via console, online and through wireless devices, Hanlon reported. The reason? TV's spiralling entry costs.

"Fewer people are playing this crazy upfront game every year," said Hanlon. Instead budgets are being diverted to the embedding of brands within e-games and to 'advergames'.

Julie Shumaker, director of sales for online and in-game advertising at Electronic Arts, unsurprisingly agrees. "Mobile gaming is going to explode in the next two years," she predicts.

Certainly, the demographics will appeal to many advertisers: "[Gamers] are older than the teenage male that was video gaming's early adopter fifteen years ago," Shumaker said. "The average age for a console gamer is 28. And 43% of video gamers are women whose average age is 40."

"Because they are not children, they have money," she stressed. "The average Sony PlayStation 2 gamer plays nine games a year at $50 each."

But let the last word -- indeed the ultimate in last words -- go to Starcom's Hanlon: "At the end of the day, it's very challenging to get a Pampers box into a video game," he said.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff