First Look: McDonald's fresh beef leaves diners speechless

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Gabrielle Union in McDonald's fresh beef campaign.
Gabrielle Union in McDonald's fresh beef campaign. Credit: McDonald's

"You're all I think about."

That line is part of the heavy dose of marketing McDonald's has planned for its new fresh beef, cooked-to-order Quarter Pounders that kicks off this week—a line being repeated by some famous personalities.

Bringing fresh beef patties to nearly all of its U.S. restaurants has been in the works for years. The "cooked when you order" Quarter Pounder gives McDonald's a chance to improve its food credentials with existing customers and win over new or lapsed customers. It also gives competitors that have long cooked fresh beef a chance to piggyback with their own messages, something Wendy's has been doing for months.

McDonald's humorous "Speechless" campaign features Charles Barkley, Luis Fonsi, John Goodman and Gabrielle Union providing the words for people supposedly rendered speechless by the taste of the new patties.

The campaign has good timing: Goodman's back in the spotlight with the return of "Roseanne," while Barkley's presence on air during the NBA playoffs gives McDonald's the chance for media integrations and ads during the games.

Barkley and Goodman each have two 30-second spots. Fonsi, whose hit song "Despacito" is still stuck in people's heads more than a year later, appears in two Spanish-language spots, with one of them also set to run in English.

TV spots are set to air once each night this week during every primetime show on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and Univision.

The company declined to share media spending, but Kenny Mitchell, McDonald's USA's VP of brand content and engagement, notes that "it's one of our biggest priorities of this year and our investment is commensurate with that." It comes after sales rose more than expected in the first quarter, while the number of visits to its U.S. restaurants declined.

Along with the heavy dose of TV ads, the "Speechless" campaign includes social, digital, mobile and radio elements. Even napkins in restaurants will have marketing messages. Some ads on YouTube use closed captioning to suggest what the celebrities would say as they're the ones biting into the burgers. There's also going to be a split-screen video that shows Goodman and how a Quarter Pounder burger is made that includes an "ASMR-style" concept, as well as custom content integrations with the celebrities.

John Goodman in McDonald's fresh beef campaign.
John Goodman in McDonald's fresh beef campaign. Credit: McDonald's

The creative work, from McDonald's dedicated Omnicom Group agency We Are Unlimited, also focuses on fresh patties being cooked to order. Most of the celebrity spots feature customers inside updated McDonald's restaurants, though Goodman in one spot plays a passenger in a car who wants to go to the drive-thru, which is a huge part of McDonald's business.

The fresh beef Quarter Pounder patties are now available in thousands of U.S. restaurants. One person who says he's already tried one is Wendy's Chief Concept and Marketing Officer Kurt Kane.

"I'm very confident, based on having tried the hamburger, that everybody is going to continue to like Wendy's a heck of a lot better," Kane tells Ad Age.

Wendy's, the country's No. 3 burger chain, has been highlighting its own cooked-to-order fresh beef patties while pointing out McDonald's is only switching to fresh beef for some, not all, of its hamburgers. Wendy's latest Super Bowl ad directly mentioned McDonald's, as has much of its social media messaging. In March, Wendy's released a "We Beefin'" mix on Spotify. One of the songs, "Twitter Fingers," kicks off with the lyrics "cold with the flows but the meat ain't frosty."

"They're trying really hard, as far as I can tell, to try and become Wendy's. The only thing they haven't done is launch square hamburgers and maybe that's what they'll try and do next," Kane says jokingly.

Wendy's does have a message about frozen, well, freezing, food that seemingly has nothing to do with McDonald's: Its 50-cent Frostys return Monday for a limited time, just as McDonald's steps up its fresh beef marketing.

"We've been on this food journey for a while and our focus has always been on our consumer," Mitchell says when asked about the competition. "We'll continue to listen to our consumer and see how they respond to this product."

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