A new ad from McDonald’s focuses on an underleveraged asset – – local stores’ place in their communities – – reflecting a potentially effective component of its plan going forward. McDonald’s faces huge headwinds in the form of stalled sales and softness* among younger consumers who seem to favor more contemporary fast feeders like Chipotle that deliver things McDonald’s isn’t good at: local sourcing, transparency, nutrition, etc. (in addition to more tasty food).
Ask any 2 people about what McD’s should do and you’re likely to get 3 or 4 opinions: reinvent the menu to appeal to younger consumers, make everything natural, offer more customization, trim the menu to the core items, invent a sub-brand, etc.
As part of its battle plan, new CMO Deborah Wahl recently announced a broad refresh of the ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ campaign, including among other things an ad that shows its familiar marquees reflecting events in their local communities.
Marquee subjects range from the catastrophic (weather tragedies) to the personal (new babies). This is delivered alongside Love-centric advertising and unapologetic paeans to things like the venerable Big Mac, and efforts to increase transparency and show authenticity of ingredients (you can hear Ms. Wahl’s explanation of the transformation here).
The marquee ad (‘Signs’) was fairly controversial, with many panning it as being manipulative and even disingenuous because of McDonald’s visible role in the ongoing minimum wage debate (‘Fight for Fifteen’) and its appearance as a huge mega-billion dollar company that doesn’t care.
While the ’Signs’ spot is not perfect and is not a little mawkish, and certainly will not turn McDonald’s around, I think it is reflective of good strategic thinking.
Why? Because rather than trying to reinvent itself to reach a fickle audience (at the risk of alienating loyal customers), McDonald’s is identifying what its core strengths are and building its strategy around them.
McDonald’s role for decades has been reliably providing familiar (if not exciting) food at a good value in a clean environment. However, for many people McD’s has also been a reliable gathering place to meet, talk, and in many cases conduct business. Stop by a store on a weekday morning and you’ll get the picture. For these people, McDonald’s isn’t a soulless corporate behemoth that underpays, it’s a familiar nearby restaurant where you can always get $1 coffee, wi-fi, and time with your friends (or get stuff done) for a few hours. It’s local, it’s part of your routine and part of your life.
In this way, McDonald’s delivers a local connection that few of its competitors do. So they’re wisely making a point of it.
Sure, they also need to offer more transparency and things like Cuties for Happy Meals, AND continue to work on speed, service and cleanliness, AND some of the customers pictured above will not likely be patrons forever, AND they have a LONG way to go to reclaim relevance, but they cannot turn this oil tanker around overnight and positioning as local stores rather than a huge multinational seems to be a step in the right direction to stabilize things now.
On the other hand, I’m not so sure that forcibly selling a generic Love message is the answer. Last time that seemed to work was for Coca-Cola 40 years ago. Actually, not sure it even worked – and in viewing it now, frankly, many of those fresh-faced singers look like aliens.
*pun partially intended