McD's to Shops: Make 'Lovin' It' More Than Tag

Traffic Up at Fast Feeder but Analysts Hard-Pressed to Credit Ads as the Cause

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Some 50 million customers a day are thundering through McDonald's -- 2 million more per day than when its "I'm lovin' it" campaign launched two years ago.

Determining just how much of that foot traffic is generated by the advertising -- or myriad other promotional pushes and menu improvements -- is nearly impossible. But McDonald's is lovin' the campaign enough to ask its agencies to take it up a notch.

In a brief to agencies, the marketer said the push lifted the relevance of McDonald's, revitalized the brand's image and framed it as a modern and contemporary lifestyle brand. But it also said "this progress needs to be amplified in future creative work by better connecting our food to the feeling and moments that people have with the brand."

McDonald's, the brief said, wants to make the 2-year-old campaign "more than a tagline" and is asking for more media options to "fully engage the customer and establish an honest and interactive dialogue with him."

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Chicago, is said to have bested Omnicom Group's TBWA and DDB for creative duties on the task and will present work at the May worldwide franchisee convention. The agencies referred calls for comment to a McDonald's spokeswoman, who said "all three agencies will have a role" in moving the campaign forward. She said, "this next generation [of "I'm lovin' it"] is going to allow us to reach our customers like never before."

They're being reached now, but the question is how. In the U.S., same-store sales have vastly improved since 2002, when they were negative. In 2003, same-store sales rose 6.4% and in 2004, a whopping 9.6%. Last year, they climbed 4.4%.

Restaurant analysts have struggled to pinpoint what role advertising and promotion have played in contributing to the bottom line. "Certainly, part of their success has come from [advertising], but you just can't separate it" from other factors, said John Glass, restaurant analyst for CIBC World Markets. "It's also been new products, service initiatives, and maybe even what the competition is doing positively and negatively."

And consumer and franchisee reviews have been sometimes mixed on the ads. "If sales are good why would anyone complain about the advertising theme?" asked Richard Adams, franchisee consultant and former McDonald's operator. "Some of 'I'm lovin' it' work was good, but ... you can't reference any specific commercial and say those are great," said John Greening, associate professor of advertising at Northwestern University.

"I have never felt that 'I'm lovin' it' did much for McDonald's. 'I'm fixing it' is what did it for them," said Jack Trout, president of positioning consultant Trout & Partners. He gives the company good marks for "getting the brand away from kiddieland" but said the real opportunity for McDonald's is to leverage its now-inarguable leadership position.

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