McDonald's Launches Marketing for 'Favorites Under 400 Calories' Platform

Campaign Part of Chain's Broader Effort to Improve Brand Perception, Transparency

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McDonald's Tuesday began rolling out its marketing behind its new menu execution, "Favorites under 400 calories."

The 400-calorie-and-fewer items will be featured on the chain's U.S. menu boards and in drive-thrus, and is part of the chain's larger Olympics effort as the official restaurant sponsor of the games. Marketing will include national TV spots, print, radio and digital, and will run through Aug. 13. In one of the TV spots, created by Omnicom's DDB Chicago, the Filet o' Fish and a chicken sandwich, both under 400 calories, are featured.

Heather Oldani, senior director-external communications at McDonald's USA, said 80% of the chain's national menu is under 400 calories. This initiative organizes items by those that are under 400 calories, 300 calories, 200 calories and 100 calories; it's also the first time the chain has nationally offered calorie count at point-of -purchase.

In short, it's about brand perception and making information easily accessible for customers. "We know that we have the opportunity to help our customers feel that much better about the items they're choosing at McDonald's," said Ms. Oldani, adding that McDonald's aims to be open and clear, and make it easy for customers to get access to the information they want.

Only calorie count will be featured on the menu board for this campaign, but other nutritional facts, such as fat content and sodium, are on McDonald's website. Not part of the "Favorites Under 400 Calories" are the chain's bundle meals and Happy Meals, as all items on the menu are à la carte.

The special menu boards will be featured at its 14,000-plus U.S. locations, although not past September. Ms. Oldani said the 400-calorie campaign will live on after menu boards stop featuring it, through the chain's website, mobile app and through its mom-blogger network.

The move comes as the restaurant industry awaits final guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration for required calorie counts, a mandate that was part of the 2010 health-care reform that would affect chains that have 20 or more locations in the U.S. Cities such as New York already have laws in place.

McDonald's has made many efforts recently to communicate more about its food. Last July, the chain made a nutrition declaration that included a revamped Happy Meal and reduced sodium by 2015 across its national menu; it also made a commitment to raise nutrition awareness among consumers.

The chain has been out performing its competitors throughout the recession, and has had more than eight consecutive years of positive same-store sales. The chain's second-quarter results this week, however, disappointed Wall Street . Its global comparable sales were up 3.7% in the quarter, though that figure is significantly less than its first quarter global sales of 7.3%.

U.S. same-store sales were up 3.6% in the second quarter. McDonald's President-Chief Operating Officer Don Thompson said in an earnings call this week that while the U.S. continues to increase sales and guest counts, it is "happening at a slower pace amid an unpredictable economic environment and increased competition."

He noted that sales gains were driven by "everyday value across a variety of price points and new-menu news," adding that breakfast continued its momentum because of "local-market emphasis on core breakfast sandwiches and the introduction of blueberry-banana-nut oatmeal in May." He also said drinks, such as the cherry-berry chiller, were key contributors to growth.

McDonald's, which spent $963 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Ad Age 's DataCenter, outspends it competition by a wide margin. But the chain has noticed increased efforts in the category. "There is an increase in terms of marketing spend by many of the folks in the competitive set and so we have to clearly be able to make sure that our strength of voice and our share of voice is still resonating with consumers out there and we build awareness for the McDonald's brand. So, this is not new ... but what it means for us is we've just got to be focused on our business plan and execute that at the highest level."

The company declined to comment further on marketing spend, or whether it plans to increase it.

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