McDonald’s is New Zealand’s largest business in the quick service restaurant category.
But despite being the biggest fish in the pond, it was quickly becoming caught between the competitive, price-driven and shrinking quick service category, and the increasingly popular, ever changing 'Informal Eating Out' market.
And while McDonald’s is known for its consistency and simplicity, this uniformity and efficiency is also what people love to hate about it.
Research told its marketing team customers didn’t think McDonald’s had kept pace. In their minds, McDonald’s offered the same food, experience and value as it had for the last 40 years.
If McDonald’s place in New Zealand’s future eating out culture had any chance of being secured, it was crucial that it carve out a bigger role in the nation’s eating out habits.
The business offering had to change, it needed to improve the perception of the food, challenge accepted beliefs around the McDonald’s meal occasion and re-ignite excitement and love for the brand.
Add to this the fact that any message from McDonald’s traditionally came with several layers of cynicism, and the McDonald’s marketing team was up against it.
“Truth is, it’s fashionable to hate on McDonald’s,” its team admits. Whatever it launched would need a different approach than the typical communications perspective, one which required McDonald’s to do none of the bragging itself.
McDonald’s developed Create Your Taste, a new, customisable gourmet burger offering.
This would allow Kiwis to use touch-screen digital kiosks to create their own gourmet burger to suit their taste and have that burger delivered to their table by the McDonald’s crew.
The innovation was a huge step change for McDonald’s, requiring slow, carefully created burgers instead of fast, convenient meals. It required a kitchen refit in all the restaurants offering Create Your Taste, with a large capital investment, which was a logistic nightmare.
But once the internal mechanisms were in place, McDonald’s was ready to tell New Zealanders about it.
Because the offering was only in half of the McDonald’s outlets across the country, and because the market had a natural cynicism for messages from McDonald’s, the brand decided to roll it out gradually over six months across three phases.
First, PR and social media, then traditional channels, and finally wrapping up by celebrating customers’ burger creations, which was a major departure from its usual television-heavy approach.
The efforts started hyper-local with bloggers and radio presenters and franchisees and loyal customers, encouraging organic social conversations around building and sharing your burger.
This then spread to more traditional channels across the nation.
McDonald’s saw this as an inside-out approach, putting the content creation in the hands of the consumers and “letting them do the raving”.
The approach was a risky one, but ultimately one that paid off.
McDonald’s had aimed to up visitor numbers by one percent. By the end of the campaign, the number of people visiting the fast food chain was up six percent. Its social media impact was massive, and market share rose. McDonald’s also saw a shift in critically defining brand health scores that had proved immovable in recent years.
The brand found that the 'Create Your Taste' campaign delivered to all of the brand challenges, giving the food a more personalised touch, delivering ‘real and fresh’ credentials and letting customers take more control with their menu.
McDonald’s said the burgers even looked better than in the pictures, and customers could clearly see McDonald’s had changed.
The campaign taught the fast food brand that giving customers the power to experience and talk about the brand unrestrained would have much better results than McDonald’s promoting itself.
As its overall message says: “Entrust in your customers, magic may happen.”
“This was a big challenge from a category, brand and operational perspective. A well-orchestrated execution taking a new approach for the category that delivered behaviour change, market share growth and importantly an improvement in brand health measures.”
Liquorland, Pacific Brands, The Warehouse Group Financial Services
This story first appeared in the Awards issue of NZ Marketing.
To read more on the TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2016, click here.