On day one of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Morgan Flatley, global CMO, McDonald’s and Neal Arthur, global CEO, Wieden+Kennedy, discussed how the brand looked to revamp its communications strategy in 2019.
The talk was moderated by Jeff Beer, senior staff editor, Fast Company.
Beer stated how he perceived McDonald’s to not be the most creative marketing brand even though it was spending big.
Flatley agreed with his perception and stated that when she stepped up as global CMO in 2019, it was her stated target to change it.
“We were a bit like wallpaper, as we were around everywhere but not providing meaning to customers. McDonald’s is this enormous scale organisation and we serve 40 million customers a day. We didn’t want to disrupt the operational machine that we were. But we realised that, when one talks to everyone, you don’t end up talking to anyone, at least in the USA,” she said.
She added that McDonald’s wanted to make sure that the brand stands for something to people by making the brand more meaningful and connecting emotionally with consumers.
Arthur then described Wieden+Kennedy’s pitch to the brand, which he confessed was a disaster at the start.
This changed after the agency conducted a road show to understand what people thought of the brand.
“We thought of the scale of the brand and wanted to do something massive, but struggled initially. Then, we did a roadshow to figure out what people thought of the brands. That changed things for us. People had stories about McDonald’s and we wanted to become a real person and talk to our consumers,” he explained.
Flatley added that the tough conversations that the brand and agency had together, in the beginning, helped as the relationship progressed.
She explained, “Initially we thought that W+K didn’t know the brand and didn’t like it! But the magic was that when they did the road trip, they got to know our consumers. We got to know the haters and the business problems we had to solve.”
Arthur said that while McDonald’s got to know the haters and the business problems it had to solve, brands should focus on the consumers that love them.
“With any big brand, there’s a tendency to see hate comments on YouTube, but you can then overlook the consumers who love you. Focus on those consumers and why they love you. In that nine-month pitch journey, we built that trust with McDonald’s. Once we built trust that allowed us to take more risk with things like Travis,” he said.
On the campaign, Flatley added, “I was confident on the outside but had late-night calls to Neal about being sure about it. It helps to have that trust. What helped tremendously was that it was created during Covid, when there was so much uncertainty, so there was a willingness to try stuff and take risks,” she said.
Working with celebrities
Explaining why the agency wanted to work with celebrities, Arthur said, “We wanted to engage with them in a way that felt authentic. Travis had ideas from the jump. His talks on merchandise were with conviction. So we created a space for him to work on. That was valuable. This became the foundation of what we did with other celebrities. BTS also did this – they put it in their language and also co-authored it.”
Flatley added, “We were very rigorous with our celebrity tie-ups and we asked them what was their ‘go-to order’. If they don’t have one, we don’t partner with them. All of them had interesting obsessions with how they played with the food. It was partnering with a celebrity who loved our brand.”
Soon after the tie-up, at Scott’s concert, there was a tragedy which led to eight deaths.
On whether such tragedies impact the brand, Arthur said, “As an agency, as we work with the likes of Nike and ESPN too, we don’t see a celebrity synonymous with brands. We tap into authentic relations with brands. There are times when there will be negative media cycles. As long as there’s an authentic relation, it’s okay.”