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Contents At A Glance

R&IEditorial Archives2005March 1 — Special Report

McDonald's 50th: Marketing

See also:
Making History
The Founder
The Menu
The Future
A McDonald's Timeline (Adobe PDF, 2.4MB)
Redefining McDonald's
World Cuisine

Multichannel Surfing
“Mass marketing is a mass mistake.” Larry Light, McDonald’s executive vice president and global chief marketing officer, raised eyebrows with those words in a speech to the Association of National Advertisers Annual Conference last October in Naples, Fla. “Practice multidimensional, multisegment marketing,” he advised representatives of many of the world’s largest consumer brands.

In fact, McDonald’s long has pursued such a marketing strategy and its reliance on highly targeted advertising and marketing communications is a central reason it is one of the world’s best-known brands. San Francisco-based researcher Interbrand ranked it 7th among the 100 most powerful brands in the world last year. It values the McDonald’s brand at $25 billion, up 1% (and up one notch in the ranking) from 2003 thanks to the chain’s sales rebound.

There’s no question that a nine-figure marketing budget makes it easier to do multidimensional marketing. According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR data covering July 2003 through May 2004, McDonald’s spent $572.8 million on measured-media advertising (covering 17 media including network, cable, spot and syndicated television; radio; magazines; outdoor; Internet; and Hispanic magazines and newspapers). Add to that estimated below-the-line consumer marketing spending on promotions, direct marketing and public relations of $754 million in 2004 (according to PROMO magazine), and the Big Mac moniker gains added meaning.

Where McDonald’s has had its deepest impact as a marketer has been through the variety of its messages to consumers, not just the ubiquity that $1 billion-plus can buy. Light’s term for the company’s marketing strategy is “brand journalism”: telling different stories to several demographic groups through a variety of media, while ensuring that all those communications reinforce a single brand image. For decades, McDonald’s has simultaneously addressed kids, tweens, teens, adults, moms, parents, grandparents, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and others with marketing meant to connect the brand with people’s lives.

“Probably the best food marketing I’ve seen in all my years was the [1970-74] tagline, ‘You Deserve a Break Today,’” says Rosemont, Ill.-based NPD Group Vice President Harry Balzer. “It captured what was going on in societal changes in the country. When you hear it you think that ‘you’ means ‘me,’ but it doesn’t. The success of that campaign was that ‘you’ meant mom. Mom was going through big changes: She had to be a super-mom, working and raising the family, and the task of feeding the family still fell on her shoulders. ‘You deserve a break today’ changed marketing; the business is about taking care of mom.”

McDonald’s marketing power has come from its ability to simultaneously target multiple gender, age and ethnic targets. According to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, for example, 14% of McDonald’s marketing dollars are directed to Latino consumers (as with the Spanish-language Arch Deluxe ad above), making the chain one of the largest spenders in this area. It developed a bilingual Web site about Latino music (, while another site () is devoted to Asians and Pacific islanders.

An Olympics advertiser and sponsor since 1968, McDonald’s increasingly pursues global marketing opportunities. Last month it announced an exclusive sponsorship of MTV Networks’ “MTV Advance Warning,” a monthly, 30-minute program spotlighting young music talent that will air in 162 countries.

McDonald's Ad Themes
1960: “Look For the Golden Arches”; “All American Meal” (promotes burger, fries and shake)
1960: “Go for Goodness at McDonald’s”
1966-1969: “Your Kind of Place”
1970-74: “You Deserve a Break Today”
1975: “We Do It All for You”
1976-78: “You, You’re the One”
1979-81: “Nobody Can Do It Like McDonald’s Can”
1981-83: “You Deserve a Break Today”
1983-84: “McDonald’s & You”
1984-88: “It’s a Good Time for the Great Taste of McDonald’s”
1987: “Mac Tonight” (promoting late-night business)
1988-90: “Good Time, Great Taste, That’s Why This Is My Place”
1990-91: “Food, Folks & Fun”
1991-92: “McDonald’s Today”
1992-94: “What You Want Is What You Get at McDonald’s Today”
1995-1997: “Have You Had Your Break Today?”
1997: “My McDonald’s”
1997-2000: “Did Somebody Say McDonald’s?”
2000-2002: “We Love to See You Smile”
2002-03: “Smile”
2003- : “I’m Lovin’ It”

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