The fast-feeder's free-for-all among its shops for a big marketing idea has led them to DDB and Arnell, according to several executives close to McDonald's.
A spokesman confirmed "decisions have been made" on the business, which Bill Lamar Jr., senior VP-U.S. marketing, earlier said was worth $800 million in the U.S. alone, although the spokesman declined to elaborate on the winner or timing for an announcement.
But the ad tagline will not necessarily be "Eat Happy," the concept pitched by DDB, and an official statement from Larry Light, chief marketing officer, said the burger baron is "not singling out" any one idea. "All our agencies had great ideas," he insisted. "We're still working on integrating those ideas into one unifying McDonald's campaign."
The decision comes a week after top McDonald's executives held the last of a series of meetings with 14 agencies in 10 countries vying to create a new global brand architecture for the Golden Arches.
Arnell was not part of the original DDB presentation team, according to an executive with knowledge of the meeting. Another executive said agency principal Peter Arnell had "invited himself" onto the team, with the specific intent to pursue the Ronald McDonald identity work now handled by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Worldwide, Chicago.
Neither DDB nor Arnell returned calls for comment. McDonald's on May 30 met with the DDB team, including Chairman Keith Reinhard.
Since McDonald's earlier said the agency that comes up with the winning idea may not necessarily execute it, it's unclear what the decision means for the other roster shops. But several executives close to McDonald's who spoke to Advertising Age said "it didn't look good for Burnett."
"We will not comment on speculation," said a spokeswoman for the Publicis Groupe agency.
"As much as we recognize the ongoing interest in McDonald's advertising and marketing plans we have to be cautious about the competitive nature of our business," McDonald's said in a statement. "We're evaluating the creative ideas that have been presented and will make an announcement when that process is complete." It's expected the company will announce its decision at its June 9 worldwide marketing convention.
Charlie Bell, president-chief operating officer for McDonald's, last month said the company "expects to see new news by the third or fourth quarter with a new look and feel" to its advertising.
McDonald's appears to have gotten the message that its advertising can only do so much to advance the image of the chain. Last week, the company met with top franchisee leadership to discuss how to sell a more radical image to its owner-operators. Executives said McDonald's needs to do a better job of communicating to its recently redefined target markets: young adult males and young adult women, including moms. "We need to really understand them and seek them out," said one executive close to McDonald's. "All this rhetoric will be for nothing if we don't change the way we talk to our targets."