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McDonald’s – Helping people fall in love with the brand again (2010 Awards)


Author: Russ Mitchinson
Agency: DDB Sydney
Client: McDonald’s Australia
Category: Silver Award for Established Service Brand
Special Award: Most Innovative Qual Research Design & Best Consumer Insight

This is the story of how Planning unlocked an overlooked truth in our consumers’ relationship with the McDonald’s brand.

This led to a campaign which:

1. Avoided advertising gimmickry
2. Dramatised small & personal moments
3. Got under the radar of rejection of the McDonald’s brand

This strategy dramatised the disarming nature of the brand experience, which proved impossible to argue with; reminding consumers of what they loved about Macca’s. This yielded not only sales and loved advertising, but provided a powerful platform for the brand, that has begun to shift long-term brand perceptions.


McDonald’s still suffered from the hangover of negative publicity towards it. The brand had been in the firing line during the public debate on obesity, despite significant changes to its menu with the introduction of Salads Plus & Deli Rolls. For many consumers, including our non-prefers, the easy default position was to join in this negative debate.

Double think

However, against this backdrop of public negativity, sales were strong. In fact McDonald’s was experiencing double digit growth. Though outward expression may be less than positive towards the brand, people’s actions belied otherwise. The last 5 years had seen massive changes in the McDonald’s business; the product introduction of a Lighter Choices menu, redesigned & modernised stores & a greater emphasis on food quality. But bizarrely, whilst these innovations had led to behavioural change in terms of visitations & sales, they had little impact on attitudes towards the brand; attitudes to the brand hadn’t increased inline with the positive sales growth. Consumers were doing one thing, but thinking another.

This is a serious issue because as we all know, the strength of connection to the brand will sustain the business in the long-run. We therefore were in an unsustainable position…

Communication challenge

Communication hadn’t helped resolve this disconnect either. It had been very effective in relaying messages about Lighter Menu options or 100% Australian beef, but en mass had done nothing to drive reengagement with the McDonald’s brand. Previous advertising, whilst popular & sales driving, hadn’t effected long-term brand perceptions. This was hardly a sustainable platform for brand success. Therefore the communication challenge was to build brand affinity whilst maintaining double-digit sales growth. We were also tasked with brand consistency; creating an idea big enough to house content ranging from salads to burgers to value to McCafe.
No easy task!

Group think

The key to unlocking brand affinity lay with our consumers, both loyalist ‘Season Ticket Holders’ & non-loyalist ‘Fair Weather Fans’. But connecting with them on the subject of McDonald’s was difficult…very difficult.

In focus groups, society was reflected in microcosm. The moment respondents realised the group was for Macca’s, the bagging started. Negative emotions came to the fore, and we were labelled “American”, “Corporate” & “Distant”. How were we to break through this barrier & glean the consumer insights within?

Drawing out insight

The secret to unlocking our consumers was to go to them; we decided to ‘beard the lion in his den’, on their own terms & in their own territory. Rather than conducting conventional groups, we went out to them individually, to their local Macca’s, where we bought them dinner and sat & chatted about what they liked & disliked. We didn’t need to talk about the abstract McDonald’s ‘corporation’ because their Macca’s experience was all around them; the McCafé where they sometimes bought their morning coffee, the crew girl they knew,  drive-thru they’d been through with their mates & and a menu board full of old favourites. Unlike in standard group settings, consumers found it impossible to bag the brand when they were surrounded by a disarming brand experience, rather than negative group think. This gave us our first research insight: that the individual brand experience completely disarms consumers & takes them away from the collective debate.

This broad reaching ethnographic research took the form of accompanied shops, consumptions, depth interviews, observations & even projective drawing techniques. It was this last qualitative exercise that yielded real fruit. Even the most sullen & negative respondents could draw something they liked & even loved about Macca’s; seeing the Golden Arches on a long road trip & the childlike emotion it elicits; wearing what you liked in Macca’s & always feeling welcome; the strange rituals by which people engage with their favourite products, like a latticework of chips in a cheeseburger; backpacking overseas & stopping at Macca’s for a taste of home…the list of these cherished moments goes on & everyone has one, loyalist or otherwise. This projective drawing technique overcame our consumers’ rational rejection of the McDonald’s brand in the usual group setting. Instead this qualitative design delved into deeper personal recesses of emotion, memories & childhood experiences, allowing consumers to express ideas which they otherwise found difficult to articulate. This innovative approach helped to unlock consumer’s latent love for the Macca’s brand, illustrated by their ‘Macca’s Moments’.

Unarguable insights

These moments aren’t life-changing, but are small & personal, and invariably brightenup our customers’ day. Importantly most of the moments could only be for Macca’s, due to the longevity of their relationship from childhood, or their latent depth of emotion. With these ‘Macca’s Moments’ we had unlocked a true consumer insight.
It is these moments which lie at the heart of our consumer’s engagement with the McDonald’s brand. There is a truth & honesty to these moments which is undeniable, even by the most cynical of consumers.

Our second insight was that with individual experiences as powerful & positive as these, we realised the role of advertising wasn’t to ‘get in the way’ of the brand experience; we didn’t need to over dramatise it, just represent it honestly. The temptation of big brands is to do something big (a la Qantas), to counter big debates. We realised that we couldn’t fight fire with fire, but should concentrate instead on the small, personal & unarguable.

Brand briefing
Proposition – Macca’s provides moments you love

To brief this to the creative teams, where else would we go but back to Macca’s? During the briefing the teams witnessed a number of these Moments for themselves; food rituals, no dress code, the all engrossing nature of a Big Mac… When the teams came to developing the work, they spent much time in Macca’s; observing, listening & watching for further Macca’s moments to dramatise. The tone of voice for this campaign was also important, and we were at pains to emphasise it to the creatives at the briefing. Up until now McDonald’s communication had been somewhat disparate, ranging from the surrealism of ‘Inner Child’ & ‘Lighter Choices’, to the realism of ‘Make up your own mind’.

This led to a fragmented & schizophrenic brand personality in the minds of our consumers. For the Moments campaign we honed down the seven tonal values to just three, including ‘True’. We wanted to dramatise ‘reality that moves positively’ in this campaign and it’s this truth & realism of tone which consumers found so refreshing & disarming. We purposefully avoided artificial or hyperbolic personality traits such as ‘Magical’; we wanted the Creatives to produce work which reflected the reality of the brand experience. This ultimately led to a non-advertising style; without a ‘selling message’ & devoid of special effects or trickery, and consumers were to reward us for this disarming level of honesty.

The Work

This Moments proposition led to insightful & subtle work. The consumer insights in the brief were dramatised in a real & honest fashion, shot almost from the point of view of someone observing them in a McDonald’s restaurant; real moments rendered in a realistic fashion – ‘cinema verite’. In a range of deliberately short length 15” and 5” executions (to keep them small & personal), we observed a tradie in the front seat getting the lion’s share of fries before passing them back to his joshing mates; kids running into Macca’s wearing fancy dress with no one batting an eyelid; a schoolboy finding the last, delicious bonus fry at the bottom of the bag (we all know the one!); a couple out on the town pulling through drive-thru to grab a midnight snack; a woman forming an intricate latticework of chips in her cheeseburger; a group of lads tucking into crispy chicken burgers at the expense of dinner conversation; these are just some of the many small, insightful but powerful executions which came out of the Moments insight.

Our new ‘realistic’ tone of voice filtered through to the way we cast talent & shot the food; real people in real situations consuming real food (no longer perfect & ‘plastic’). This mandatory led to further executional consistency, along with a ‘love x’ line at the end of every execution which acted as a unifying branding device. Finally, the Moments campaign gave meaning to the global brand–line ‘i’m lovin’ it’ for the first time in Australia. This campaign rooted the line in something real & tangible that consumers actually loved; their true, day-to-day interaction with Macca’s through the food, crew & restaurants, rather than some abstract global brand. ‘My Macca’s moment’ provided the ‘it’ in ‘i’m lovin’ it’.



The Moments campaign was embraced by consumers. They were delighted to see the truth of their relationship with Macca’s dramatised for the first time. The disarming honesty of this communication cut-through the barriers of cynicism surrounding Macca’s & engaged at a deeper, emotional level. Some of the quotes from groups (unheard of a year ago); “They make you relate, rather than you having to think about it”; “These are some of the best ads I’ve seen for McDonald’s and all it’s saying is “Hey guys remember us?”; “They’ve stopped being the big Macca’s machine and become a person”. The reason previous brand communication had failed to consistently engage, was because it didn’t fully acknowledge our consumers’ real relationship with Macca’s, and we had not celebrated these experiences previously.

When these Moments are faithfully re-told they reignite a fondness for the Macca’s brand, which for some has been lying dormant in their minds for years, even amongst our non-prefers. The power of this insight is the irrefutability of truth & its disarming honesty. When dramatised in a ‘real’ style it reminds our consumer of their true relationship with Macca’s & cuts-through the negative associations with the brand; this isn’t a piece of advertising but a brand experience on TV. The campaign is being broadened to Online, In restaurant, even music CDs! The Moments campaign has the reach & depth to cover all touch points with the McDonald’s consumer & reengage them with the Macca’s brand. This communication solution deliberately avoided advertising trickery, and concentrated on the small & personal rather than the large & grandiose; by so doing it completely disarmed consumers.


The effect of recounting these consumer experiences honestly had an immediate impact on brand attitudes. We saw the measure ‘Brand for people like me’ which had been relatively flat for the last 3 years, significantly increase. Brand affinity was now moving up in line with our sales growth; communication was helping to bridge the gap between behaviours & attitudes. The level of McDonald’s licensee trust, which is crucial to the success of the corporation, also rose with the advent of this campaign; it proved hugely popular with them. This Moments insight has gone on to be the foundation of campaigns for McCafé, Made to Order & the Breakfast range. In fact it has given the McDonald’s brand heart and focus in Australia, providing a unifying campaign framework for our many disparate messages; all based on an irrefutable consumer truth.

Finally, the Moments campaign from Australia has been hailed as the global benchmark in communication within the McDonald’s corporation, in its quest to increase brand trust globally. Here we see Australia punching above its weight strategically & creatively. This advertising is loved, the sales are in double digit growth, and importantly we created a long term platform for the McDonald’s brand which has a significant effect on brand perceptions, beyond just clever executions.


The Moments campaign got under the rational radar of rejection for the McDonald’s brand, and communicated consumers’ true relationship with Macca’s. The effect has been to reignite love for the Macca’s brand even amongst our non-prefers & this begins to build brand trust in McDonald’s for the first time in a long time. This is a very unconventional solution for McDonald’s & it runs against what we’d done before. It concentrates on the small & personal and avoids advertising trickery. It’s an unarguable brand experience rendered faithfully in communication. We’ve therefore seen not just a short-term sales effect but the holy grail of long-term brand affinity.

We all have a Macca’s moment we love…

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  • Samantha Sile

    I am inspired by the way the insights were found. Getting people inside the Macca's environment and bypassing their conscience by getting them to draw their feelings. And then the production execution in 'keeping it real' was the perfect translation for their subconscience.

    It's refreshing to see some real moments laid bare in an ad.

  • Rajat Basu

    Great reading! At last the global campaign begins to make sense when seen from this perspective. Any bets Mac would tweak the campaign globally?