McDonald’s recipes for branding success

“Golden arches” – just two words, yet they conjure up the image of McDonald’s in an instant. It’s not about shapes or colours; it’s about something deeper – the power of branding. But here’s the twist: McDonald’s wasn’t always the success it is today. McDonald’s faced a big problem in 2003 with a loss of over $300 million in the last quarter of 2002. So, how did it make its customers love McDonald’s again?

Brand Journalism

As its customers matured over the years, McDonald’s remained the same. It then recognised that it was different from other giants like Coca-Cola, Marriott, and Visa. These brands held different meanings for different people at different times. But McDonald’s wasn’t a big brand; it was a mass brand.

That’s when McDonald’s decided to shake things up with a concept called “Brand Journalism.” Instead of trying to boil down its brand into a single positioning, it started tailoring its image for different groups of people and products. McDonald’s now means something unique to a child, a budget-conscious student, or a health-conscious working adult, all while staying true to its fundamental brand promise.

McDonald’s Singapore shows how it is a part of everyone’s life.

That was also when “I’m lovin’ it” was born, changing the power dynamics from “we” to “I”. McDonald’s added a sensory touch – the three things we associate with McDonald’s today: the catchy “ba da ba ba ba,” the iconic golden arch, and the “I’m lovin’ it” vibe. This blend of sound, visuals, and words has lasted for two decades.

“In today’s digital, app-laden, mobile marketing world, Brand Journalism is even more relevant (than in 2003). With the new, varied digital platforms we can relate a meaningful McDonald’s message — the right message to the right person at the right time for the right reasons.”

Source: @mcdsg
20 years later, “ba da ba ba ba” still sings in the hearts of consumers

Takeaway for brands: Keep it simple yet flexible. As your brand grows and the media consumption landscape evolves, allow your brand to evolve within a defined structure. McDonald’s held onto its core identity while staying responsive to changing trends, showing that simplicity and adaptability are essential for sustainable growth.

Fan Truths creative strategy

Fast forward to 2020, and McDonald’s was ready to change the game again. They started seeing the brand through the eyes of fans. Enter the “Fan Truth” strategy. It’s about understanding what fans love about McDonald’s and speaking fan-to-fan.

The truth is, everyone has a McDonald’s order. It doesn’t matter if you’re a global superstar or a girl next door. McDonald’s tapped into these universal experiences to build authentic connections.

Famous Orders Campaign shares the stories and experiences of the fandom with the go-to orders of iconic customers

It continued rolling with a star-studded lineup of Travis Scott, BTS, Cardi B and more

Takeaway for brands: Authenticity bridges gaps. It’s a reminder that understanding what truly resonates with your audience and speaking their language can form genuine connections, regardless of demographics and backgrounds.

Meeting customers where they are

It’s not just about being ahead of competitors but staying ahead of consumer expectations. For instance, McDonald’s ventured into coffee trends with McCafe, appealed to the health-conscious with salads and an ‘Eat Light Under 500 Calories’ menu, and took a giant leap into sustainability. In 2021, they introduced net-zero restaurants, powered by wind turbines and solar panels. It isn’t just about green energy; it’s about maintaining the iconic McDonald’s look and feel while weaving in subtle nods to sustainability. The result? Just as the red and yellow arches are instantly recognisable, so too shall McDonald’s green initiatives.

Source: McDonald’s via Yanko Design
Market Drayton McDonald’s Net-Zero Restaurant

Source: McDonald’s via Construction UK Magazine
Market Drayton McDonald’s Interior

Takeaway for brands: Brands must take time to understand what consumers want, not just keeping pace with consumer expectations but setting the pace.

“To be a leader, a brand must act like a leader.”

Leading with transparency

Today, McDonald’s isn’t just about burgers and fries; it’s about transparency, fresh and natural ingredients – that’s the spotlight. And it goes beyond by also confronting its imperfections head-on, offering an unfiltered view of its packaging’s unsightly role in contributing to litter – a side that most brands would choose to sweep under the rug. In a world dominated by curated perfection, McDonald’s chose authenticity.

Norway McDonald’s Green Narrative

Takeaway for brands: Authenticity trumps perfection. Being transparent about imperfections and committed to genuine change can set a brand apart and win the trust of consumers.

The key ingredients

Beyond its striking colour combination, McDonald’s journey, from facing unprecedented challenges to reclaiming its position shows that real stories and actions matter in branding. Being flexible, real, and connecting with people are the keys to lasting success.

883 North Bridge Road #15-03

Southbank, Singapore 198785