Hopes Celeb-Filled Campaign Stems Declining Fortunes

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CHICAGO ( -- Can "The Donald" save McDonald's?

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-food giant is getting a hand from real estate mogul Donald Trump to kick off its first nationally advertised value menu to try to lift anemic sales.

Despite being the share leader in the fast-food segment, McDonald's is late to launch a nationally advertised value program. Wendy's Corp. is in its 13th year of offering a nationwide everyday value menu, and last month Burger King Corp. rolled out its own 11-item, 99-cent menu. About half of McDonald's 13,000 U.S. restaurants already have the menu in place, and the rest will offer $1 Big 'N Tasty burgers and McChicken sandwiches beginning Oct. 4 and the full menu by November.

Turnaround plan
The chain is hoping

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the menu, part of a $1 billion turnaround plan that also includes remodling stores and a $30 million increase in national franchisee advertising, will put fourth-quarter sales on a positive track and prevent its seventh consecutive quarterly earnings decline.

To back the value menu effort, McDonald's is spending at least $40 million over six months in media with a creative campaign featuring value-minded celebrities paired with "McDonaldland" characters under a "Got a Buck, You're in Luck" theme.

An ignorant Grimace
In the first spot that breaks tonight in prime time, Mr. Trump, seen in his New York high-rise, tries to cajole McDonaldland character Grimace into sharing with him his secret as to how Grimace could offer the Big 'N Tasty lettuce and tomato burger for only a buck. The purple puppet blinks ignorantly, drawing the admiration of Mr. Trump for keeping mum about the deal. In the closing shot, Mr. Trump, with his arm around Grimace as they look over Central Park, says, "Together, we could own this town."

Bill Lamar
Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, created the campaign, the first effort to debut under the newly appointed senior vice president of marketing for McDonald's USA, Bill Lamar. Despite being a Johnny-come-lately to this intensely competitive low-priced segment, Mr. Lamar contends the high-profile effort will still succeed.

"The fact that it's not a 99-cent price point gives us a different positioning and a different platform to be creative in how we promote and talk about it," Mr. Lamar said.

As for the advertising, Mr. Lamar wouldn't confirm the names of other celebrities said to be slated for upcoming ads. "One tactic is to build suspense on who the next celebrity is going to be. Once this pool of creative is fully seen, it will get great amount of talk value."

One spot, said to be on hold, features lawyer Johnny Cochran, according to executives close to McDonald's.

While using celebrities, or even McDonald's characters, is nothing new for the chain, it is the first time the two concepts have been paired for a campaign, the company said.

Nightclub Ronald
Mindful of a much-maligned 1996 promotion by Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, for the Arch Deluxe that had Ronald McDonald boogying in a nightclub rather than holding court at a childre's birthday party, for Mr. Lamar, it's all a matter of context.

"I feel very good about how we've used the McDonaldland characters in this pool of creative," said Mr. Lamar. "These characters are in character. When you see Grimace he's Grimace. The way you see him playing himself is true to himself."

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