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Marketeer of the Month

By The Drum | Administrator

May 1, 2003 | 5 min read

McBollocks! No doubt the first thing uttered by this issue’s “Marketeer of the Month” when he heard his fast food empire’s quarterly results had fallen for the first time in history.

For decades it seemed like McDonald’s, and marketing supremo Ronald in particular, could do no wrong. The chain’s growth has, until last year, seemed inexorable. It currently boasts more than 30,000 restaurants in 118 countries, serving a staggering 46 million people every day. Nevertheless, despite the ubiquity and the universal recognition, there’s no denying McDonald’s is a brand facing turbulent times. And Ronald knows it. The clown has already been forced to step down as the face of the brand in France. Around 700 restaurants have been closed in the main markets of America and Japan, and planned openings in 2003 have been cut by 40 per cent to 450 globally. Ronald’s Golden Arches aren’t exactly crumbling, but they could certainly do with a bit of brand maintenance.

“As a brand they have numerous problems, which I’m not sure they’ve done enough about,” confirmed Greg Taylor, head of brand innovation at Elmwood. “One of the main areas they need to re-look at is the restaurant environments themselves. Whenever you go into one you never feel inclined to stick around. It’s all very clinical. In my mind they’re sacrificing the opportunity for a real brand experience in favour of brand efficiency. They need to make a visit more rewarding.”

Taylor also believes that the corporation isn’t helping itself with its attitude to public concern over its food. “They claim to be listening to the numerous complaints from consumer groups whilst maintaining the same standards, particularly in the US. In America they still market ‘Mighty Kids’ meals, which is basically double what you get in a ‘Happy Meal’. It looks like they say one thing in public and another thing altogether with their products.”

Taylor does recognise that Ronald et al are at least trying to revitalise the menu with the New Tastes range, but sees that as a rather belated attempt “to catch up”, whilst believing others could see it as “an admission that their traditional range is in trouble”.

Martin Carr of True North found it hard to be any more positive and any less cynical. When quizzed over how the McDonald’s brand could evolve to retain its traditional popularity, he answered – “It can’t. It has to find a different popularity.” He added: “A multinational oil producer that was getting a lot of flak for polluting local waterways once asked its advisers how it could improve its image. Their answer? ‘Stop polluting things.’ I doubt the culture and nature of McDonald’s and its products could allow for, nor could it afford, such a paradigm shift.”

Carr does, however, see a way forward for the company; mainly through “evolving a number of nutritionally friendly sub-brands. It already owns a third of Pret a Manger. This diversification could both secure its future and allow it to develop a number of vilification-free properties.”

But what of the McBrand itself? Can it not be safeguarded into the future? Taylor has his reservations: “Up till now McDonald’s has followed a classic global branding strategy and this can be a double-edged sword. The names it has employed are universal across markets, like Big Mac, and the bright brand colours can be seen throughout the world. This is great for brand recognition but if you’re disenfranchised by that brand experience in your local area, chances are you’ll feel disenfranchised by it wherever you come across it in the world.”

Taylor believes one way forward may be by forging stronger links with the local populations and their tastebuds. A move which already appears to be paying dividends in India, where the success of products like the Chicken Maharaja has prompted the chain to double its number of outlets over the course of 2003.

Phil Dean, MD at Thompson Design, agrees: “They could ‘stretch’ the brand more to incorporate regional differences, which they do to a degree, but they need to go further.”

Will Ronald heed this advice and push to integrate his brand further into local communities across the world? Who can tell ...? One thing we do know is that, despite the manifold problems facing the firm, it’s still floating high in the brand firmament. As Phil Dean admits, “My youngest child knew the logo before she could talk,” which, let’s face it, is pretty scary, but impressive nonetheless. With brand awareness like that it’s unlikely that Ronald and friends will get their McP45s anytime soon. However, if they want to retain their number one market position they’d better get off their McArses and address the brand’s problems before it’s too McBloody McLate.

At the time of going to press McDonald was unavailable to comment. However, his arch nemesis, Hamburglar, was only too keen to speak out about the problems the McDonald’s brand faces, saying: “Robble, robble, robble.”

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