McDonald's Corp., the world's biggest fast-food chain, has unveiled an aggressively positive global marketing campaign to promote eating right and staying active, especially in messages geared to children, even as other marketers are shying away from ads aimed at youngsters. The global effort is clearly a response to the public health advocates, governments and other critics who have called for a crackdown on the food marketers they blame for an explosion in childhood obesity.
At a crowded McDonald's restaurant in New York's Times Square on Tuesday, McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner introduced the effort, which includes TV commercials, sponsorships with various media and non-profit organisations, Web sites, in-restaurant promotions and endorsements from celebrities and athletes, all aimed at families and children.
The message: People should pay attention to the foods they eat and their level of activity to find the right balance.
"We're focusing on energy balance in this broad-based, global programme and providing a framework that will be adapted around the world, country by country," Skinner said. "Our size and our strength allow us to set an example."
Added Dean Barrett, senior vice-president and global brand business officer for global marketing, "We are listening, we are learning, and we are going to change."
The health-related ads incorporate and expand on McDonald's global tagline, "I'm lovin' it," to say "It's what I eat and what I do ... I'm lovin' it." McDonald's would not comment on how much the effort costs, though Barrett said a "significant part" of the company's retail marketing budget aimed at children will instead be allocated to the campaign in the US.
Kraft phases out snack ads
McDonald's, which in the US is partnering with various media companies including children's network Nickelodeon, part of Viacom, and children's publisher Scholastic, is taking a markedly different approach than other food marketers feeling the heat in the childhood obesity debate. Kraft Foods, for instance, in January announced it would stop advertising snacks such as Kool-Aid and Oreo cookies to children between the ages of 6 and ll. Kraft this year is phasing out all TV, print and radio ads targeting that age group, which accounts for about 10% of its advertising budget.
McDonald's Barrett said, "We have a job to do in communicating this message. We are not going to back away; we are not going to stop talking to kids in ways that are relevant."
Ads adapted to local markets
The new TV ads, created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, feature popular athletes such as tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and snowboarding pro Crispin Lipscomb. The commercials are being adapted to local markets globally by Leo Burnett offices worldwide. Other McDonald roster agencies, such as Omnicom Group's TBWA Worldwide and DDB Worldwide, are also involved in the global adaptation.
The commercial featuring the Williams sisters includes the lyrics "I'm burnin' calories like a fiend.... Leafy greens so right for you. I'm making good choices, you can, too," while shots of salads and other menu items are interspersed with shots of the tennis stars on the court.
McDonald's is also putting its well-known icon and "chief happiness officer," Ronald McDonald, to work on the new lifestyle mission. The character sports snappy yellow-and-red-colored workout gear and appears in some of new TV commercials as well as on various packaging and outdoor creative executions, all of which show him in some form of physical activity, such as scaling one side of an office building.