McDonald's Wants to Clear Its Food Rep

New Campaign With Strong Digital Push Addresses Quality of Menu Items

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- McDonald's Corp. has set out to dispel some myths about ingredients and preparation as part of a yearlong food-credibility campaign.
McDonald's wants you to see what it's made of.
McDonald's wants you to see what it's made of.

"We've been hearing over the years that consumers have some misperceptions about the quality of our food at McDonald's," said Molly Starmann, director-U.S. marketing at the chain. "In 2008 we're engaging in a conversation with our guests because we feel it's important for them to know the truth about our food."

Common assumptions
Some of the common assumptions it wanted to correct: that its hamburgers and chicken nuggets are made of "leftover parts"; that its milkshakes and ice cream contain lard; that its sausage patties contain additives that make people want to eat more; and that its cheese contains meat product.

McDonald's decision to undertake the campaign comes on the heels of a spate of literature about the food industry, including books such as "The Omnivore's Dilemma," food-safety issues in China and the recent meat recall in the U.S. (McDonald's was not a client of Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. but was incorrectly linked to the nation's largest meat recall in several reports this February.)

The resulting effort is spread among its creative agency, Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago; digital sibling Tribal DDB; and promotional and out-of-home agency and Leo Burnett sibling Arc Worldwide, part of Publicis Groupe. DDB created a series of documentary-style TV spots that introduce farmers and suppliers, while Arc has redone food packaging to share information about ingredients and direct consumers to new features on the McDonald's website.

"We wanted to let the consumers have a chance to talk to us to about McDonald's about food in an honest, straightforward manner. This is kind of approach is new for the brand," said Jaime Guerrero, account manager at Tribal DDB, Chicago. "McDonald's is seen as faceless global entity when in fact it's made up of real people, many of whom are farmer suppliers and crew proud to supply the food and work at McDonald's."

Digital ad budget
The fast feeder spends about 10% of its $1.7 billion U.S. marketing budget on digital projects, up from almost nothing a few years ago. Global Chief Marketing Officer Mary Dillon said she expects the digital ad-spending share to rise exponentially in coming years.

Tribal's team recommended a website that addressed food-quality concerns, opened up dialogue with the company and provided video of how menu mainstays such as Big Macs and french fries are made. The team visited local suppliers to capture their authentic voices.

The site launched simultaneously with DDB's TV spots Feb. 28, and Arc's new packaging is now in McDonald's outlets. Each component of the push directs customers online to learn more about what their lunch is made of. "This kind of approach is new for the brand and we knew that going in," Mr. Guerrero said. "We wanted to have an open dialogue instead of broadcasting a message like advertising in the [fast-food industry]. We wanted to take a different approach."

Additional components, including Q&As, farmer testimonials and crew video, will be posted in the coming months. But the site, which replaces its existing food-quality site, has seen traffic rise already. There were 100,000 unique visitors during March, from a monthly average of 40,000 in 2007, according to Tribal DDB. Ms. Starmann said the average length of visit is also up, about 70%, to more than three minutes.
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