An Emotional Free Sample: McDonald’s Brand Strategy

To be competitive in today’s advertising world, McDonald’s needed to update its communications model. At the BRITE ’19 Conference, Colin Mitchell of McDonald's discusses the company's strategy. 

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Although McDonald’s is one of the world’s most recognizable brands, it is not immune to the shifting landscape of trends in advertising. On the stage at BRITE ’19, Colin Mitchell (Vice President, Director of Global Brand, McDonald’s) described some shifts that we’re seeing today, how McDonald’s has incorporated them, and what the implications are for your brand.

1. Attention is the most scarce resource.

Previously, the textbook description of advertising was “Advertising is the art of getting a unique selling proposition into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost.” Mitchell argues that we are now living in a tech-mediated world where attention is the most scarce resource. Now, advertising is all about competing for attention in a tight attention economy.

2. Your competition is not just other brands.

In advertising, McDonalds used to consider other fast food brands its main competitors: Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and similar brands. Then it was understood that it was competing with all other brands, period: Nike, Google, Apple, and so on. But Mitchell goes further to explain the contemporary state of advertising: You are not competing with all other brands, but with all content ever made—music videos, social media posts, podcasts, and all the other content that consumers now have at their fingertips at any time.

3. The best brands have a consistent, integrated communications model.

Great brands like Nike and Apple are self-aware about the roles that they play for customers, says Mitchell. For example, Nike plays the role of a “coach” to its customers, and it’s evident in their inspiring commercials, retail store experience, and fitness community building that they are all about coaching. Apple’s brand is all about “product demonstration,” exemplified by campaigns such as “Shot on an iPhone.”

To be competitive in today’s advertising world, McDonald’s needed to update its communications model. Mitchell says that although McDonald’s started as a very functional brand, advertising themselves as the best fries at the lowest price, the brand and its communications model are now all about making customers feel a certain way. (For example, think back to their “You deserve a break today” tagline, or their “I’m lovin’ it” slogan.) Mitchell’s solution for winning the hearts, minds, and attentions of customers, then, is to give them an “emotional free sample.”

Check out this video from BRITE ’19 to hear about some of the tactics that McDonald’s used to create an emotional free sample and stay competitive in today’s world of limited attention spans, and how this could apply to your brand.

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