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How McDonald's is using digital to tackle 'big hairy business issues'

The brand has managed to increased consumer trust by 18% over the past two years.

As an “unashamedly” mass market brand, McDonald’s is less interested in using digital for pin-point targeting but instead to tackle “big hairy business issues” ranging from improving consumer trust around where its food comes from to the addressing the "recent media swirl" around staff strikes.

According to Emily Somers, the fast-food chain’s UK vice-president of marketing and food development, in the past year alone the firm has increased its investment in digital by 21%, noting a subsequent 22% increase in the ROI from the medium.

However, digital has also brought about a series of challenges for the brand in recent times, including the “spread of misinformation” about how its food it sourced and produced.

Its admittedly a time-old problem for the chain, but consumer conversations have now moved from the water cooler to the news feed, which coupled with the advent of mobile has left brands like McDonald's with “nowhere to hide” said Somers, forcing them to “step out of the ivory tower” and take matters into their own hands online.

Although McDonald's continuously measures food quality perceptions and trust scores, this hasn't stopped it facing a “fake news” crisis of its own, perpetrated by sharable YouTube and Facebook videos claiming to show ‘pink slime’, in McNuggets and news articles about ‘fake eggs’.

However, by using social listening techniques, as well as working with YouTube influencers and digital video as part of its overarching ‘Good to Know’ myth-busting campaign, the brand has managed to increased consumer trust in its products by 18% over the past two years.

“We’re not chasing the latest innovation, or whizzy feature when it doesn’t give us the ability to engage even a discreet audience at scale,” said Somers during at IAB Engage in London on Wednesday (18 October).

“The opportunity afforded to us by digital is much broader than a few new advertising formats. The biggest opportunity lies in getting a much bigger, deeper understanding of our customers’ needs, attitudes and behaviours so that we can be more adaptive and agile,” she continued.

But Somers said that maintaining and building brand trust is a never-ending task, claiming that the recent "media swirl" around McDonald's staff strikes in the UK was also an area filled with "myths and misinformation."

In September the brand was hit by its first example of industrial action in the UK, with staff staging a walkout at two stores in a dispute over zero hours contracts. While she didn't elaborate on how the brand plans to overcome perceptions around its people practices, Somers said: "As a business we are relentlessly focused on doing the right thing and being transparent to earn the trust."

With a yearly spend of £85.4m on traditional ad channels, McDonald's invests more in offline advertising than any other UK food and drink brand according to Ebiquity. However, it's clear that a renewed investment in digital is paying off when it comes to shifting the dial around consumer conversations.

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