McDonald's Becomes Greenskeeper in Wrigleyville

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With the beloved Cubs recently being swept out of the playoffs, Chicago fans will have to wait till next year to see games at Wrigley Field and marvel at the gorgeous outfield wall covered in Boston ivy. Until then, though, they can quench their thirst for pretty greens right across the street, where Leo Burnett has brought a little horticultural knowhow to the table for another piece of memorable McDonald's outdoor. After 2006's "Sundial" billboard, which had plenty of time to dazzle awards juries, winning loads of metal and dominating outdoor categories, Leo Burnett was quick to realize that the sun not only supports life, but also successful ad campaigns. "McDonald's came to us with a specific assignment: promote salads, specifically freshness and quality of ingredients," write Gary Fox-Robertson and Vince Cook, the copywriter/art director duo on the project. "It wasn't hard to make the leap to a billboard that would show that proposition literally. When a product is this good, its story so convincing, the concepts come fairly easily. With fresh salads, it's very much the medium is the message."

Originally scheduled for only a short post-season run, the billboard's popularity has prompted an extension of its life span, although, the true arbiter of the installation and its eventual deconstruction is Mother Nature. Using the same location as last year's sundial, Leo Burnett intended to unveil the project during the summer months but due to the nature of the lettuce and strict orders by consulting horticulture expert, Greg Pierceall, an advisor of a horticultural degree-completion program in the Chicago area, the installment had to wait for cooler climes. Pierceall's former students are charged with maintaining the billboard, taking daily trips to inspect all the plants for damage of any kind and water the lettuces if they didn't get any rain.

Sixteen varieties of actively growing lettuce are in the billboard (iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, baby red romaine, baby green romaine, baby red leaf, baby green leaf, baby red swiss chard, baby red oak, baby green oak, lolla rosa, tango, tatsoi, arugula, mizuna, radiccio, frisee) and are arranged to spell out "Fresh Salads." "These greens were planted on a vertical wall garden system. The board was hand painted and textured to match soil underneath the plants. The individual plants were germinated from seed in a greenhouse and installed as seedlings onto the board" the creative team says in an E-mail. "None of us have had any experience working with horticulturists or anything even close (in fact, not one of us has even a remotely green thumb). We wanted to work with someone who was an expert in this area and we were lucky enough to find Greg Pierceall of the University of Illinois."

Since the introduction of McDonald's Premium Salads in the U.S. in 2003, the fast food company claims to have sold over 486 million salads, placing them in the upper echelon of greens distributors in the U.S. It has been recorded that annually, McDonald's uses 80 million pounds of Spring Mix lettuce and an additional 100 million pounds of green leaf lettuce and iceberg lettuce on its sandwiches, 30 million pounds of tomatoes, 6.5 million pounds of grapes and 4.2 million pounds of walnuts. And that's not including their billboards, which have been highly supported by neighboring McDonald's franchise owner, Ernie Cochanis.

Although they cannot disclose any details on future projects at the moment, the folks at Leo Burnett say "we are constantly working in partnership with Bill Lamar and Marlena Peleo-Lazar at McDonald's to develop more outdoor work that will showcase various McDonald's offerings. We cannot underestimate what great collaboration is required to pull these pieces off and Bill and Marlena have been tremendous. As a consequence, there are some very exciting things on the horizon."

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