McDonald's has been a staple of American culture since the 1950's, and has represented the American Dream to many countries that they've moved into. Its convenience and low prices have driven past generations to love the brand, but now McDonald's has fallen out of line with today's food culture. Our task was to discover the current desires for food in America and find ways that McDonald's could apply themselves to these insights without losing their true self.
In order to discover today's food zeitgeist we conducted research both in NYC and worldwide. We interviewed experts like Nino Rotondi, former president of McDonald's Caribbean, Mark Carlson, the creative director of the McDonald's account at Leo Burnett, and Meme Roth, the founder of the National Action Against Obesity organization.
We found four elements driving choices in today's society:
Community - Soul Cycle and CrossFit have tapped into people's need to be a part of a group. Individuality - Converse has shown how important it is for people to feel unique while still feeling like they are a part of a larger whole. Sustainability - Ben & Jerry's has shown that legacy brands can remain relevant as long as they hold true to today's values, and sustainability is a key factor in the way they have maintained their brand loyalty. Honesty - Chipotle's transparency about their food sources has allowed for them to stand out in a sea of fast food and fast casual options.
We conducted a survey on 456 people across the world to see if these feelings of shame and embarrassment were universal. 19% of people said that "Shame" or "Guilt" are the first words that comes to mind when thinking about McDonald's. We started exploring what could cause this problem with McDonald's but not other fast food like Burger King or Shake Shack.
The guilt that a McDonald's customer experiences is a direct result of a psychological state called cognitive dissonance, when the customer simultaneously wants to eat at McDonald's but also knows that they shouldn't because of poor perception of quality. Due to numerous scandals in the past (like the Jamie Oliver Pink Slime scandal in 2012) customers no longer trust McDonald's food to be real food, even though they have made efforts to change. This cognitive dissonance leads to guilt, which reduces consumption.
Even though scandals have led to a worldwide drop in sales, McDonald's still has scale on their side. Their supply chain allows them to sell 70 burgers a second worldwide, and they feed 1% of the world's population every day–that is 69 million people and is more than the population of Great Britain. McDonald's should use this scale to their advantage and take responsibility for the conscious choices people make about their food.
McDonald's new brand essence is "Changing the World through Food & Fun." Now, all initiatives that McDonald's makes will be about positively impacting the planet through tackling issues of world hunger, sustainability, and quality of life of mankind. If any company has the reach to do this, it is McDonald's.
Our first campaign under our new brand essence is called "Fillin' Good." It communicates two important aspects of McDonald's: first, that McDonald's is a treat. Throughout the company's history McDonald's has been a delicious treat, but never something to eat everyday. Their problem has never been about health but the perception of quality. People want to eat burgers, but now they also want their calories to count. Customers are more willing to spend money on a juicy burger from Shake Shack now than a McDonald's burger because of the low perception of quality–not health. The second part of the slogan is "good." McDonald's now focuses on a better life for their customers, employees, and the lives of millions across the planet.
Our first part of the new campaign is the McWorld. McDonald's has acclimated itself to new countries by providing menu items to suit the local tastes. McDonald's customers are fascinated by how there is porridge in Vietnam and beer in Germany. We want to bring the world together to try these dishes, and 10% of the profits will go to solve hunger-related problems in the country of origin. For example, in August McDonald's will share the Malaysian black burger with the world and some of the profits will go to help Malaysian children go to sleep with full stomachs.
A consistent way to bring back customers is through a loyalty program (86% of people are more likely to come back to a restaurant with a loyalty program over another that doesn't), and McDonald's doesn't have one. The new loyalty program will concentrate on repeat visits and also doin' good. For every $25 spent, the customer will get a free treat–such as fries, a cone, or a soft drink–and McDonald's will donate a nutritious meal to someone in need. This makes it easier for McDonald's customers to feel like they are doing their part in helping the world.
We want to promote sharing within the McDonald's community so we have a 4pm Happy Hour every day that people can get two treats for the price of one, and the customer is encouraged to give the second treat to a friend of a person in need of a pick-me-up.
In an effort to be fully transparent with our customers, people will be able to communicate with our employees and view our kitchens through the app periscope. People can make sure their food is being prepared in a fast a clean way.
Some communities make it difficult for their members to recycle, and by providing recycling bins in their parking lots McDonald's can champion sustainability and give customers a reason to swing by more often. We also know that if every McDonald's in the world cleaned up a small area around their restaurants, McDonald's could essentially clean a large part of the world.
The franchisees own 90% of McDonald's restaurants and they are the true heart of the company. We want people to understand how local McDonald's really is, and we will do this by highlighting franchise owners in short films on Youtube and putting posters and billboards up of them in the neighborhoods that they operate their business in. It is important for people to see McDonald's not as a huge corporation, but as people that employ their neighbors and friends.
The solution to McDonald’s problem has been within them all along, all they had to do was look to the past for the values they once stood for. They were once a small burger chain with a dream to bring fast food to the world, and now they have achieved what few companies in the world have been able to do. They embody what the American Dream stands for in so many ways – hope for a better life, and that opportunity is within reach.
McDonald’s has a global presence, but if we also can make them feel local and human again we can find the true heart of the company. McDonald’s has been an icon present in neighborhoods for decades, but now the neighborhood is the world and good neighbors take care of each other. McDonald’s can change the world through food and fun. It’s time to start.