Opinion: What We Can Learn From McDonald’s Marketing

March 29, 2021

MARK MACDONALD

Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.

Decades after McDonald’s Restaurants ran the ingredients of their popular Big Mac hamburger as their basic advertising text, those old enough to remember can still recite it all, in order. It became a competition amongst friends, to see who could recite it, with or without melody.

McDonald’s maintains its hold as the gold standard for marketing and advertising, and because of that, stays at or near the top of the uber-competitive fast food industry. After a prolonged swoon about a decade or so ago, McDonald’s revamped its menu while maintaining solid standard bearers like the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder and, of course, French Fries. It is back where stockholders and franchisees like it, providing solid returns on investment.

While driving recently, I couldn’t avoid seeing “Not Without Canadian Farmers” emblazoned on a McDonald’s delivery trucks, pointing out that the food they serve is made and grown in this country. I couldn’t help but admire, and take another look at, how and why the corporation’s marketing succeeds.

Consistency

Does McDonald’s create the best hamburger you’ve ever eaten? Some might say so, but surely there are better tasting burgers out there. McDonald’s is, however, consistent in its quality and delivery times, with price-points that always make it a consideration for budget-conscious or “must eat now” consumers. Go to McDonald’s in Canada, the U.S., Mexico or China, and it’s always exactly the same.

Their messages vary, but when they come up with a new campaign, they use it everywhere, for as long as it doesn’t remain stale and forgetful. The Big Mac recipe. There’s no tipping at McDonald’s. You deserve a break today. I’m lovin’ it. All hanging around just enough to earn storage in our memory banks.

When it comes to marketing, McDonald’s just keeps at it. You know where to find them, and they know how to bring you in. It works, and they just don’t quit.

Clarity

One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to decipher what McDonald’s is trying to say in its marketing. That doesn’t mean it isn’t clever – it just follows the tried and true method of getting an uncluttered, memorable message out to its target audience.

Their basic messaging captures the imaginations and appetites of children, who have been known to hound their parents to take them to McDonald’s for something to eat, Now. They must have it, and will get it, dependent on volume and repetition.

Changing Gears

Some things work for awhile, but not forever, and McDonald’s is masterful at recognizing that. Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese once made a trip to the Golden Arches like a near-Disneyland experience. They’ve all gone into hiding.

They introduce, re-introduce and take away menu items. Pizza and McRib have come and gone, and re-appeared from time to time.

While staples remain, there always seems to be a new menu item or two to try. It shows they’re not stuck in the past, and not afraid to try new things – demonstrating they’re willing to change, if they must, to keep consumer interest high.

Being Pro-Active

Several times a year, stories are published attacking McDonald’s about something: Quality of ingredients. Caloric counts. Packaging. Wages. Almost immediately, the corporation responds to the issue, never allowing smoldering embers to become a forest fire of negative publicity. They’re on it, and their response time is impressive.

A cynic today might believe that some messages are introduced to start conversations and subsequent cycle of responsive editorial, which is free advertising of their brand. In a parallel universe, celebrity publicity machines recognize crises lift stars to the top of the conversational heap, particularly with social media. But we digress.

The fact is, McDonald’s is always out there, sharing their story, in a variety of forms. And because they’re always at it, they’re able to even address issues that might arise, or could become problems, thus controlling the conversation to some degree.

No wonder we’re still talking about them and how they conduct their business.

Mark MacDonald is President of Communication Ink Media & Public Relations Ltd. and can be reached at mark@communicationink.ca

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