Press Articles

PR Intelligence ReportSeptember 17, 2003

McDonald’s re-energizes brand

The company famous for the golden arches unveiled its new “i’m lovin’ it” tag line in an effort to rejuvenate its brand. Learn how the fast-food giant plans to use the new tag to attract more customers.

The impetus

In an attempt to invigorate its brand amid declining sales and restaurant closings, McDonald’s Corp. needed a new slogan that was fresh and appealing.

“After turning in their first loss in 38 years, McDonald’s needs to act fast to regain lost ground,”says Chris James, naming director for branding agency Cintara. “Specialty sandwich chains are giving them a run for their money like they’ve never seen before.”

As a result, McDonald’s held “a competition of ideas” in February among its top international advertising agencies.

“We challenged our agency partners to put aside everything they knew about us and come up with fresh, original thinking, all of it with today’s customers in mind,” says Larry Light, McDonald’s executive vice president and global chief marketing officer.

The result: McDonald’s chose the “i’m lovin’ it” tag line and dropped former slogan “We love to see you smile.”

Good move, James says.

“The ‘Smile’ campaign was dead before it launched,” he says. ” ‘i’m lovin’ it’ promises a real benefit-that you’ll love McDonalds. And it doesn’t lie to consumers in that way that ‘We love to see you smile’ did.”

The execution

The “i’m lovin’ it” tag is part of a larger marketing strategy called “Rolling Energy” to revitalize McDonald’s and connect it with young, hip consumers worldwide.

“It’s much more than just a new tag line or commercials – it’s a new way of thinking about and expressing our worldwide brand appeal to the consumer,” Light says.

That is a smart strategy, says Jay Jurisich, creative director and co-founder of Igor [now Founder / Creative Director of Zinzin], a San-Francisco naming firm.

“When done right, the tag line is part of the branding strategy,” Jurisich says. “The tag line is the linguistic face of the brand and it should summarize the ad campaign.”

Campaign components include:

  • TV ads. Munich-based Heye & Partner created five TV commercials to promote “i’m lovin’ it.” As McDonald’s first global ad campaign, the ads will run in more than 100 countries.

    “We will communicate a consistent brand message while at the same time capturing the spirit, music and flavor of each local country,” Light says.

    Shot in 12 languages, the commercials reflect the lifestyles and attitudes of today’s culture.

    “Portraying youth as robust and healthy counteracts the bad publicity of their product not being good for young people,” Jurisich says.

  • A pop superstar. McDonald’s teamed with singing sensation Justin Timberlake to connect with a younger audience.

    “As one of music’s hottest young stars, Justin Timberlake is absolutely connected to today’s consumer attitudes and trends. His cultural relevance is right in tune with McDonald’s new direction,” Light says.

    Timberlake sang several of the vocals in the commercials and will make cameo appearances throughout the campaign. McDonald’s will also sponsor the singer’s 2003 European tour.

    Timberlake’s involvement can make the informal “i’m lovin’ it” tag stick, James says.

    “McDonalds’ new ads, particularly their discovery of rap as the vernacular of youth, should go a long way toward recapturing their shine,” James says.

What lies ahead

Use of a “spokes-singer” is an emerging trend that doesn’t always work, Jurisich warns.

Chrylser’s partnership with singer Celine Dion is a good example. Coupled with the tag line “Drive & Love,” Dion sings in several Chrysler commercials.

“It wasn’t clear what the message was with Celine,” Jurisich says. “Even if they had a good idea and message, it wasn’t well executed.”

McDonald’s, however, has a better chance.

“Whether you like his [Timberlake] music or not, if the focus of the campaign is about youth, then it’s a good fit,” Jurisich says.

But while the tag lines and overall strategy appear to be a move in the right direction, it won’t be easy for McDonald’s to attract more customers.

“It could work, but they have so much baggage,” Jurisich says. “The problems they’re having are related to bigger issues such as changes in diets and environmental concerns.”

Unifying brand offerings and price erosion are still weak spots for McDonald’s, James says.

“Dippin’ Dots, McShakers, yogurt and similar items haven’t yet been well-integrated into the menu and price competition hasn’t gotten McDonald’s the traction they hoped for,” he says. “They need to clean up those loose ends if they’re really going to make ‘i’m lovin’ it’ become their next golden age.”