While the fast-feeder is closely guarding details of the campaign, Advertising Age has learned it will kick off with a slice-of-life commercial that begins with a dancing Ronald McDonald in a parade sequence. Shot in soft focus, the next scene cuts to an outdoor wedding, then to a construction crew where one worker tosses a Happy Meal to a burly crewman, much to his delight.
EIGHT CORE SPOTS
There are eight core commercials revolving around McDonald's as it intersects with the daily lives of customers -- each ending with a person smiling and the new tagline. More than 80 versions of the spots are said to be in final production; the entire campaign was shot using actual crew members, in deference to the commercial actors strike. A McDonald's spokesman declined comment on the campaign.
DDB Worldwide, Chicago, handles the bulk of the "Smile," effort, which will run through all McDonald's ad communications, including teen and tween spots from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago; Hispanic ads from Del Ribiero Messianu, Miami; and African-American spots from Burrell Communications Group, Chicago.
One "heart-tugger" spot features a doctor leaving her morning rounds at the hospital. As she approaches her car, she sees the letter M drawn in the condensation on a car window -- a breakfast reminder from her kids.
McDonald's drive-through takes a role in the effort, and is featured in several spots. One, which borrows a concept from a European spot, follows a teen-age couple as they pull into the drive-through. The payoff comes when the girl orders her Big Mac minus the onion, which her date obligingly parrots in nervous anticipation. Another shows a dad in his red sport-utility vehicle on a mobile phone as he takes food orders from his kids while he's in the McDonald's drive-through.
One commercial created for the Hispanic consumer market highlights McCustomer service at its best. The action loosely follows the McDonald's "3-minute experience" from the moment a customer enters the store until the time a crew member hands over the food. The action opens with someone washing the window and robotically swings to a person picking up her order, taking it to the table and sitting down. Everyone is smiling. Scenes transition in mechanical fashion, giving a near 360-degree perspective.
CLAMORING FOR AMY
To reinforce the appeal of the crew, another spot shows a fortysomething couple discussing with their preteen kids which babysitter to hire for the night. The kids beg for Amy, who later arrives -- still in her McDonald's uniform -- which reveals her allure to the kids.
The campaign has been cloaked in secrecy for months to the point that some local markets will still be using "Did somebody say McDonald's?" for promotional spots even after the smile campaign breaks, a senior agency executive said. "People were concerned about the timing of their media buys," the executive added.
McDonald's has a lot riding on "Smile" as it tries to turn around a declining sales trend. A number of analysts lowered their ratings on the company following several months of lower sales in the U.S. and abroad. "We're not looking for it [the campaign] to be a huge driv-er of sales," said Matthew McKay, associate at Robertson Stephens, who added that the investment bank is expecting more negative sales during June. "Beyond [June] is a big question mark. We would hope the ad campaign would help drive sales in the second half."
The fact that McDonald's is performing so poorly in a positive economy -- while some competitors and casual dining chains are flourishing -- has disappointed analysts.
"McDonald's acknowledged that if the euro remains at current levels, there will be a negative impact to expected earnings," said Allan Hickok of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, who added that he believes sales will remain very soft in the second quarter despite McDonald's Beanie Baby promotion. "It appears the glory days of the Beanie Babies are well behind us. It's just not juicing sales like it did a couple of years ago."
But larger problems loom over the burger giant. "The negativity [in sales] left a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the system to cause the pullback in sales," Mr. McKay said. "If [the decline] were just simply in the U.S., you could argue the Beanie Baby comparison, but the fact that it is so broad in nature causes more concern with what's going on with the company."
Nonetheless, Chairman Jack Greenberg has a mandate to show the world McDonald's at its best. As part of the McMakeover, stores have been spiffed up with a fresh coat of paint, cleaner bathrooms and interiors, and new uniforms for crew and the chain's icon, Ronald McDonald. The company also set an aggressive training campaign for crew to make sure they smile and elicit smiles from customers.
The new campaign undoubtedly will raise expectations for the chain, which then has to deliver on its message. Creative has been carefully built around heart-tugging imagery and feel-good vignettes to tap into the emotions to bring out that sought-after smile.
Initial response to the spots by franchisees during the company's April worldwide convention was lukewarm, according to attendees, who blamed the weak reaction on logistics -- in the confusion of the meeting, half the franchisees left before the spots were shown. But by the time of a spring operators meeting, franchisees were "psyched" by the campaign, one attendee said, and swiftly approved the fast-feeder's proposed 2001 marketing calendar.