McDonald’s Agency Review: Is There a Secret Ingredient?

McDonald’s Agency Review: Is There a Secret Ingredient?
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McDonald’s Corp. announced last month that it is reviewing agencies to handle creative for its billion-dollar U.S. advertising account. A single shop is considered likely to get sole control of an account that’s now split among several. What should McDonald’s look for from an agency and what does it most need from that agency?

I asked Barry Klein for his informed opinion. Barry served as McDonald’s Corp. director of advertising from 1969 to 1974 and is credited with creating Ronald McDonald and leading the “You deserve a break today” ad campaign. In an essay here last year he wrote that McDonald’s operators could handle all-day breakfast while rightly urging the company to go for it. Now a principal at Klein & Co.–which creates consumer communications, concepts and new products for restaurants, retailers and consumer package goods companies–Barry Klein can be contacted at


As the recently hired advertising guy at McDonald’s many years ago, I was reasonably pleased with the work and working relationship with ad agency D’Arcy, when my boss, Paul Schrage, told me we were going to do an agency review. At the time, it was exciting news for a young person who was new to the national advertising world. As the review progressed, we met and spent time with some of the most famous stars of the ad world: Steve Frankfort, Mary Wells, Bill Ross, Keith Reinhard and others whose work had made major impacts on the universe of TV advertising. After all this time, the memories of their presentations and the conversations about it are still with me.

Through all the brilliance to which we were exposed, there is one point that became a conclusion regarding the agency/client relationship that is still the most important to me, and it may have been lost in the shuffle of all the recent upheaval in marketing communications. For the moment, let’s simply call it IDEAS. And the ideas must motivate people to buy. Not much that agencies do is more important.

McD_LovinIt Ad520

How do the good ideas that increase sales come to life? When the agency is nearly as familiar with the client’s business as the people who are employed by the client. A day or two of working in a store by an agency person is not nearly enough. The agency needs to be familiar enough with store operations to know why it’s difficult to serve burgers and eggs at the same time, for example. That situation could lead to a comical commercial that shows consumers the McDonald’s kitchen at lunch time and sells the idea of having a different lunch at the same place two days in a row. Suppose the consumer got a discount coupon for one item when they bought another, but it was only good for a few days? Agency people who know the business will think of ideas like that.

In this old ad guy’s opinion, the secret ingredient to look for in the agency review is IDEAS (lots of them), ideas that make news and have an opportunity to move the sales needle. The suggestion here is that an important requirement in the presentations be a substantial list of large and small concepts that may or may not be motivating to consumers. Why?:

⇒ Compatibility with the “try it” approach Steve Easterbrook has brought to the brand, and should generate action and excitement internally and externally.

⇒ The company has the resources, distribution and geographic diversity to test any idea. If it doesn’t work, so what? (Incidentally, the pervasive fear of failure at McDonald’s seems to have gone away.)

⇒ Sustaining the new upbeat attitude and spirit of the people (especially franchisees) will require an ongoing parade of such ideas, and help retain consumer interest.

⇒ There are few barriers to the types of ideas that can be tested, including the old standbys such as new products and value. And each idea doesn’t have to be a big sales builder. But they do need to be different from each other. (One new product or price deal after another would not work.)

⇒ Different concepts could be offered in different markets, and the franchisees could select from the choices, with test market results to guide them.

McDonald’s needs an agency review that is anything but traditional. It needs an alternative to “I’m lovin it”…a celebrity spokesperson…even a great advertising campaign such as “You Deserve A Break Today” might be acceptable. But keeping the momentum that has begun with breakfast all day and other new ideas should be the focus. Ideas That Make News should be the primary criteria for the McDonald’s agency selection.

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