McD's '05 strategy hinges on 'balance'

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Intent on taking its "leadership marketing" to the next level, McDonald's Corp. has outlined its top five global marketing programs for 2005, and communicating "balanced lifestyles" tops the list.

Larry Light, exec VP-chief global marketing officer, said new Chairman Jim Skinner and CEO Mike Roberts have endorsed an "energy balance" theme as a corporate priority. They have called for ideas from global roster agencies as the next generation of its "I'm lovin' it" theme. "It will involve public relations and internal marketing," said Mr. Light, noting "we cannot hide from the [childhood obesity] debate."

"People always talk about it in terms of childhood obesity," he said, but "It's about well-being-not just nutrition-for a healthy and happy life. That works great with our Happy Meal. How do we make a Happy Meal a happier meal?"

McDonald's will push its milk, yogurt and fruit choices for kid meals as well as themes for being active. Print will play a major role for that push as will a "huge" internal marketing program. The chain is planning a new kid-targeted Ronald McDonald video on the energy balance message for 80 countries.

off the hook?

While several nutrition education groups embraced the idea, noting that they rely on funding from food marketers, at least some are angered by a fast-feeder preaching balance. "It lets them morally off the hook," said Mark Occhipinti, president of American Fitness Professional Associates, a certification group for fitness and nutrition instructors. "It would be a conflict of interest for a company to come out and say anything positive about exercise after they've been supersizing for decades."

McDonald's remaining priorities are energizing the "I'm lovin' it" theme; McDonald's 50th anniversary; making Ronald McDonald and the McDonaldland characters relevant beyond the playpen; and capturing more young adults. Each of these issues will be the topic of separate planning meetings, beginning in February.

While the marketer has staged an impressive revival in the past 18 months, many academics and observers are unwilling to say the fast-feeder has turned around for good. Particularly vexing is the hard-to-reach young-adult male audience. In the first half of 2004, McDonald's lost seven-tenths of a share point among young adult males.

Bob Sandelman, president of restaurant consultant Sandelman & Associates, said McDonald's menu improvements, such as salads "talk more to young women than males" and "35 to 45-year-olds experiencing middle-aged spread."

McDonald's efforts to refashion its image may have backfired, said Barbara Bylenga, founder of Outlaw Consulting. Young people "never like to make the obvious choice and will choose the underdog," she said. "They stay away from mass culture and McDonald's...[is] the quintessential example of selling as much as possible."

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