Seventy million—that’s the number of customers fast-food chain McDonald’s serves across its more than 35,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries every single day. But this “Happy Place’s” financial results aren’t exactly making shareholders smile. According to McDonald’s Q1 2014 results, the restaurant chain experienced a consolidated revenue increase of 1% and a net income decrease of 5% compared to the previous year.
“In the near term we are prioritizing our efforts around those elements of the restaurant experience that are most impactful—offering the best food and beverage options and delivering outstanding service,” Don Thompson, president and CEO of McDonald’s, stated in a press release. “For the long term we are focused on more effectively leveraging consumer insights to guide our global growth priorities of optimizing our menu, modernizing the customer experience, and broadening accessibility to brand McDonald’s. We are intent on pursuing initiatives that will strengthen our relationship with our customers to reignite our business momentum.”
The company has to maintain a balancing act. One one hand, it has to deliver the traditional and affordable favorites its customers expect. On the other hand, it has to “modernize” the enjoyable customer experience and make McDonald’s accessible to consumers across all touchpoints. So what’s McDonald’s secret sauce for staying true to its roots while still being considered an innovative player? In short, “creative bravery.”
“We embrace and encourage creative bravery,” says Matt Biespiel, senior director of global brand strategy for McDonald’s. “Creative that’s disruptive makes a positive and long-lasting impression. It surprises, excites, and informs our customers and has the ability to differentiate the brand and our menu.”
Because I’m Happy…
Introducing new characters—and breathing life into old ones—is one way McDonald’s exercises creative bravery. Last week McDonald’s introduced its Happy Meal brand ambassador “Happy” to the United States. According to the company’s official press release, Happy encourages children to eat more “wholesome” foods, such as the apple slices and soon-to-be-available Go-GURT Low-Fat Strawberry Yogurt that McDonald’s offers in its Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals. However, this recent video by Grub Street suggests that the only thing that the red Happy Meal box with big eyes and giant teeth stirs in children is fear and confusion.
Although Happy is new to Americans, the animated character isn’t a stranger to other parts of the world, Biespiel says. Happy originally debuted in France in 2009, he notes, and has been scaling across European and Latin American markets, as well as parts of Asia, the Pacific, and Middle East.
However, Happy’s journey to America doesn’t signal an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new mascot shift for McDonald’s. In fact, legendary brand figure Ronald McDonald received an image revamp—complete with shiny new red and yellow threads—about a month before Happy’s arrival. The world renowned clown will actively engage consumers across McDonald’s social media channels while Happy will promote McDonald’s healthy meal options. To further advocate a healthy lifestyle, the golden arches company also pledges to solely promote milk, juice, or water with its Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals on menu boards and on in-restaurant and external advertisements later this year.
“Kids love Happy and the Happy Meal,” Biespiel says. “Happy and Ronald McDonald give the brand an unbeatable combination of fun for the entire family.”
Chasing after a new GOL!
But the brand’s redesigns don’t end with the mascots. For the first time in company history McDonald’s is revamping its iconic red fry box—for its 2014 FIFA World Cup GOL! campaign. The company hired 12 artists from around the world to feature street art on McDonald’s medium and large fry boxes that reflects their passion for soccer, Biespiel explains. The newly designed boxes hit a majority of McDonald’s restaurants this past Monday and will be available throughout the World Cup tournament.
To extend the new fry box experience, McDonald’s launched an augmented reality app called “McDonald’s GOL!” with Qualcomm Connected Experiences Inc. and Trigger. After consumers download the app they can hold their iOS or Android device screen up to the box. The app will then recognize the design and turn the fry box into an AR soccer goal. Substituting their fingers for legs, consumers will then “kick” a soccer ball past obstacles and try to score a goal.
“We’re always exploring new ways to engage with and add value for our customers,” Biespiel says. “Our solution is a campaign that taps customers in-store and digitally with a fun, engaging experience.”
Innovative advertising? McDonald’s is “Lovin’ it”
Improving engagement with customers every time they interact with the brand is always a campaign objective for McDonald’s, Biespiel notes. And innovative advertising, he says, helps the brand resonate with consumers and make McDonald’s a company that they can proudly associate with. “Our goal is for [a] genuine connection,” he says.
So whether the brand is introducing freaky red boxes with eyes or asking consumers, “Did somebody say McDonald’s?” creative bravery and delivering fun and enjoyment across channels remains at the core of McDonald’s brand strategy.
“While the words have shifted slightly over the years, the spirit remains the same,” Biespiel says. “McDonald’s is a happy place—a hap, hap, happy place.”