Lovin’ it – How McDonalds has put the emotion into product features

26 Jun 2018 | Research & Business Knowledge

Member Nick Bonney reflects on the winners at the annual shindig that is the Cannes Lions. The Lions are the most established and coveted awards for the creative and marketing communications industry – the advertising equivalent of the MRS awards.  All the best creative work is showcased and judged.

I was interested to see the award-winning entry from McDonald's in Canada. Firstly, because in all the fuss about digital it was great to see a brilliant external outdoor campaign but secondly because it was another feather in the cap for a brand that appears to be getting a lot of stuff right recently.

Unlike my nostalgic reflections on the World Cup, I have to confess that I’m not a regular McDonald's consumer but, from a marketer’s perspective, I have to say I’m a big fan. I have long used the McDonald's IPA paper as a case study in training courses on how a brand started to wean itself off the drug of direct response advertising and balance its share of voice to more longer term brand-building activity.

You can download the case study from the Marketing Society here.

Over the past couple of years, this strategy has continued and I think McDonalds has achieved that rare balance of balancing both the rational and emotional – a ‘hard centre’ of a consumer benefit delivered in a way which recognises a fundamental human truth.

When training teams on finding insights, I am a big advocate of the is/ does/ gets / feels framework i.e:

  • PRODUCT FEATURES – what it is
  • PRODUCT BENEFITS – what it does
  • CUSTOMER BENEFIT – what you get
  • EMOTIONAL BENEFIT – how it feels

Nowhere was this more in evidence than the recent McCafe campaign.  At its heart it’s a product announcement ad (i.e. McDonald's does coffee) but it’s delivered in a way which generates a wry smile and also hits on a genuine underlying human insight – we can all feel a bit pressured by the complexity of choice that can now be involved in choosing a hot beverage.

The next time I sat up and took notice was last Christmas. For all the hype around Moz the Monster, in my book McDonalds won Christmas and many of the published data bases e.g. System One’s Feel More 50, ranked it as one of the best performing campaigns of the season.  Again at its heart its advertising late open hours, drive through and healthier produce (carrots for Rudolf) but again its delivered in a humorous way which reflects the realities of modern day families.

Secondly, McDonald's has been taking a leaf out of Byron Sharp’s book and leveraging those distinctive assets.  The recent 50th anniversary campaign for the Big Mac had many of us children of the 80's reminiscing about that seminal moment that a McDonald's opened up in our town and the memories we shared hanging out in McDonald's as teenagers.  Reinforced by creative outdoor executions like the ‘wrap’ of the BFI IMAX, it again managed to build an emotional campaign which still had a product message, selling two brand extensions of the Big Mac as the final call to action.

Finally, we have the more recent campaign landing the improvements in the customer experience.  Many brands I have worked with have shied away from the tricky territory of talking about customer experience benefits, based on a fear that it’s a hygiene factor or its highlighting that it was never that great in the first place.  Two brilliant executions manage to highlight significant improvements to the customer journey (digital kiosks and table service) but again doing so in a way which is based on a genuine human truth about parenthood.

The good news for McDonald's is that it seems to be working.  Recent results showed sales growth of 7.8% in developed international European markets like the UK at a time when the casual dining market has been under such severe pressure.  Too often I've sat in meetings where driving and sales and building the brand are set up as two alternate paths.  It's great to see an organisation proving that you can deliver long term sales growth through owning a more emotional territory.

At Orange we had the mantra ‘ a brand is a promise delivered’ drummed into us – don’t get me wrong, as a brand and proposition, McDonald's has a lot of challenges facing it.  Quite rightly it is being forced to address critical issues such as changing dietary habits, childhood obesity and the sugar tax.  Equally, it will have a big job on its hands to reduce the amount of single us plastics it generates as a business to reduce the impact on our oceans.

However, from a marketing perspective, it certainly appears to be on the right track – I hope it can continue to communicate in a way which grounds rational features in genuine human truths. I, for one, am 'lovin' it'.

Get in touch at or read his full blog.