As McDonald's Preps for Super Bowl, Another Executive Shuffle

Chain Seeks To Reverse Ongoing Sales Slide

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Credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

McDonald's has recruited another senior executive, as the beleagured company preps a Super Bowl campaign and looks to "evolve" the "I'm lovin' it" tagline.

The chain has named Kristy Cunningham its top strategy executive for the U.S. business. All U.S. insights and research will report to Ms. Cunningham, according to executives familiar with the matter. She replaces Chris Cole, senior VP-strategy, who had been reporting to Kevin Newell.

Mr. Newell's role, however, has also changed. The former U.S. brand and strategy officer is now president of McDonald's West region, a new division that resulted from a restructuring of the company into four U.S. zones in October.

Super Bowl play
Meanwhile, McDonald's is prepping a Super Bowl spot, a media buy confirmed by executives familiar with the business. For years, the chain has opted out of the game, choosing instead to advertise in the pre-game slot just before kickoff. With Deborah Wahl as U.S. CMO, the chain is making big moves both internally and externally, in an attempt to turn around sliding sales.

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett won the Super Bowl assignment, according to executives familiar with the matter. That the agency will create the Super Bowl ad is not a surprise, given it won the pitch for a rebrand. It's believed those ideas will play a role in the Super Bowl creative.

How prominent a role "I'm lovin' it" will play remains to be seen. When Leo Burnett won the rebrand pitch -- a pitch that longtime lead national McDonald's agency DDB also participated in -- executives familiar with the pitch said the chain was not looking to replace "I'm lovin' it," but "evolve" it. Those people also said the tagline would remain. A spokeswoman told Ad Age, "'I'm lovin' it' is definitely here to stay."

Still, the chain filed trademarks on Oct. 28 for two lines, "Lovin' > hatin'" and "Lovin' is greater than hatin'." "Lovin' beats hatin" has also surfaced as a possible replacement, but the chain denied that was a new slogan. According to exeutives familiar with the matter, those lines could be used as the concept or title of a campaign, rather than a new slogan or tagline.

Executive moves
The executive moves are the latest in a string of staff changes at McDonald's, particularly in the marketing department. Ms. Wahl joined the company in March, reporting to Mr. Newell. Ms. Wahl will now report directly to U.S. president Mike Andres, according to executives familiar with the matter.

Prior to his U.S. brand and strategy officer role, Mr. Newell was global chief brand officer. Prior to that, he held a number of positions in McDonald's regional divisions.

A spokeswoman confirmed Ms. Cunningham's and Mr. Newell's moves, noting that Ms. Cunningham will also report directly to Mr. Andres.

Since Ms. Wahl's arrival, a number of senior marketing executives have departed, including chief creative officer Marlena Peleo-Lazar. The chain has also brought on a number of new execs, including Fred Ehle as the chain's first VP-customer officer. Ms. Wahl reorganized the marketing department around demographic groups as opposed to product groups.

The company's third-quarter results disappointed Wall Street with a 3.3% decrease in comparable sales both globally and in the U.S. CEO Don Thompson said during its most recent earnings call two weeks ago that "we haven't been changing at the same rate as our customers' eating out expectations." He went on to say the chain is changing aggressively with a new global approach designed to increase relevance, touting "McDonald's Experience of the Future," which includes the chain's goal "to deliver a more relevant McDonald's experience for all of our customers."

"I am confident in our ability to regain momentum in the U.S., given the actions that we're taking and the pace at which we're moving.," said Mr. Thompson.

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