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No! Brand McDonald's is not confused

Recently, the afaqs! team met up with McDonald's chief creative officer Marlena Peleo-Lazar and its senior director, global brand development, Matt Biespiel. They spoke on the perception surrounding it and how it will continue to build on the nine year old communication slogan, 'I am lovin' it'.

Excerpts:

afaqs!: What is the key to the success of your global campaign 'I am lovin' it', which has been running for a decade now?

Marlena Peleo-Lazar and Matt Biespiel

Biespiel: Yes, it is the longest running only global campaign in our company's history and a big factor in our business growth. The best part is that it is working better than before, now.

Peleo-Lazar: Our consumer, which is one big family, uses different tones to talk to different people. For example, a young boy will speak to his sister in a tone which will be different from the way he speaks to his aunt. So in our communication we have designed chapters which feature all these characters from the family and tell a story about McDonald's.

Interestingly, the stories have been designed in such a manner that they are continuously evolving and that is the reason we have been able to keep it fresh.

I always get stopped by people and they ask me how long will you go on. I say it will always go on. We have always made our communication relevant, fun and full of energy for our people. Moreover, we have freedom within a wide framework to create new stories every day. Therefore, our stories are locally and culturally relevant. We don't think we are going to run out of ideas. 'Love' is a universal emotion and it allows you to stretch our communication all the time.

afaqs!: So how did it all begin?

Peleo-Lazar: The campaign was a way to infuse the brand with energy and life and announce 'McDonald's is here'. The original campaign started off with individual stories that captured the consumer's viewpoint and that was a big turning point. The whole focus was that rather than us telling the consumer that 'we want you to act or feel this way', the campaign was entirely based on the consumer's perspective and was very insightful.

We launched the campaign in a big way in 118 countries and in many languages. This was the first global campaign for McDonald's in its history. The campaign, 'You deserve a break today', which lasted for 18 months started off as a musical, telling stories and infusing energies.

afaqs!: How has the campaign evolved over the years, especially in a market like India?

Peleo-Lazar: Just compare a commercial from two years ago to the recent one featuring a young boy as Ravana. You'll see a dramatic difference on how we are projecting the brand. The change that we made in 2010 was more about ensuring that everybody truly understood the character of brand McDonald's.

afaqs!: What role does a brand like McDonald's play in people's life?

Biespiel: McDonald's has always been a place for kids. It is a place which allows kids to be kids, where they can come and have fun. Our founders - Richard and Maurice McDonald - call it a 'happy place', so we try to keep the spirit alive. We have kids all around the world who love coming to McDonald's. Nonetheless, our customer base is not restricted to only kids. There might be a perception that we are a place for children but we believe that McDonald's is a family restaurant. Therefore, we continuously look at all our stakeholders, keep a tab on their eating habits and give them different options in our menu.

For example, in certain parts of the world, every single Happy Meal comes with a fruit; in some countries, the Happy Meal is served with a dairy product; and in some countries, we even give an option between chicken nuggets, hamburgers and fish.

So we give choices that are loved by children, make moms feel good and stakeholders endorse. We're part of people's diet. Our average customer comes to McDonald's two and a half times a month. We want to make sure that those two and a half times, they have a range of choices.

afaqs!: Is brand McDonald's confused - what do you stand for?

Peleo-Lazar: I don't think that brand McDonald's is confused at all. We are at the core of what we always have been, that is providing choice. As a company, one of our values is to provide options in the things that consumers want. Also, people are always looking for options and so we work to produce more indulgent choices.

We talk to consumers all the time, particularly moms and their children. And in terms of nutrition for children, we try to make food filled with fun. No kid will ever say, 'Gee!, I wanna have carrots today'. The range of choices, on the other hand, also makes moms feel better in terms of what they are giving their children.

Biespiel: McDonald's is the original social network. It is a community and we have people coming across from all walks of life. We are open for all. At the heart, we are a family restaurant. A place where a mom and her kid can come and a dad can bring his family.

In many parts of the world, going to McDonald's is a special occasion, while in some parts of the world we play a much more functional role. We want to have the right things in our menu and would like to be at the right places whether one wants to have casual Saturday dinner or a quick bite on her way to work. And we have done well in markets where it was thought to be impossible. For example, in a market like France, which is an extremely food-centred place and is popular for its traditional long lunches and dinners, we have flourished. And this is mainly because we have been able to understand what a new age customer wants. Today, people don't have time to take two-hour lunch or dinner.

afaqs!: What challenges does a market like India offer?

Biespiel: Challenge for a company of our size is that you have to pick and choose where you will invest your dollar. Currently, we have 248 restaurants in India, which is not nearly enough given the population, the size of the market and the emerging middle class.

Besides, we are literally introducing our brand to a billion people every day. And, you get only one chance to make your first impression. So when we work with the Leo Burnett team, the focus is always on 'how do we introduce ourselves', and say 'hello' to so many Indians who don't know us. That is why we focus so much on the character of the brand in our communication for India.

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