McDonald's looks to emotion and relevance

16 June 2009

OAK BROOK, Illinois: McDonald's, the fast-food restaurant chain, is adopting a recession marketing strategy that aims to "keep our brand relevant" and to appeal to consumers on an "emotional level", Mary Dillon, its chief marketing officer, has said.

Speaking at the AMA's Mplanet 2009 event earlier this year, Dillon argued the self-defined "foodservice retailer" was trying to create a global "brand promise" alongside adopting a more localised strategy in individual markets, which has proved particularly successful in countries like India.

When assessing what the company had learned from the current financial crisis, Dillon has now argued that the ultimate "play in our playbook is pointing out the advantage of the breadth of our offerings and leveraging it up to an emotional level."

Overall, she said that McDonald's is in the "busy-lifestyles business, which is a growth industry" as consumers around the world have an increasing array of demands being placed on their time.

As such, she argued that corporation's core strength was to "offer food people love", a menu that is "great value" and high levels of convenience.

While "people are excited about McDonald's right now" as it is one of the few organisations to have benefitted from the economic downturn, the Oak Brook-based company is focusing on more than price.

Dillon said that "parents around the world are interested in food quality and food choice", and, as a result, the restaurant group's "marketing to parents educates them on those topics."

Children also "want to have good-tasting food and associate our brand with fun," an insight which has similarly shaped the chain's approach to communicating with this age group.

In the UK, for example, McDonald's has run ads for its Apple Dippers linked to the film Madagascar 2, and which thus combined entertainment with being "oriented around food choice."

By contrast, Dillion said, in countries like Sweden "we haven't been able to talk to children for years", as the regulatory environment has become increasingly restrictive.

While stating that this was a "global trend," McDonald's chief marketing officer added that "our brand is in a position that we can engage with stakeholders and parents and continue to market our brand in a way that's right for the times."

As such, the company has heightened its digital activity – which now takes 7% of its global media spend – such as with a new integrated campaign in France, launching the McFlurry ice cream in the country.

This campaign combined TV with communications running mobile, online and ringtones, all based around the theme of "customising your McFlurry."

McDonald's is also focusing on "old media" like outdoor, which has been "pretty cost-effective", and announced a tie-up with Nintendo in Japan.

This offers customers free items such as "demos" of games and models of "characters" linked to the games console manufacturer, and has proved "an exciting way to leverage what's hot in Japan with a trip to McDonald's," according to Dillon.

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by WARC staff