McDonald's Puts Focus Back on Beef With Angus Deluxe Launch

But Is It the Right Time to Promote Premium Burger?

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Lest you're thinking it's all about lattes, salads and chicken sandwiches, McDonald's is putting beef back at the center of its marketing agenda.

McDonald's Angus print ad
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McDonald's Angus Deluxe print ad.

The Golden Arches has recently promoted its Quarter Pounder and Big Mac sandwiches, but Angus Deluxe is its first burger launch since 2001. The 1/3-pound sandwich, made with Angus beef, a higher-quality bun and choice of toppings, will be top dog in McDonald's burger category. However, many experts wonder if this is the best time for promoting premium.

"We listened to our customers, and we know what they're looking for," said Marta Fearon, director-marketing, McDonald's USA. While the chain has spent years building credibility in chicken, salads and coffee, she said, "we know that even in this type of economy, McDonald's is all about value, and to be able to know that you can go to McDonald's and get a third-pounder with quality ingredients at an incredible price is truly compelling for the consumer."

Anecdotal evidence from the Chicago market seems to support the thesis that Angus is selling quickly. But McDonald's President-Chief Operating Officer Ralph Alvarez admitted it was a challenge to sell a $4 sandwich in a call with investors last month. "Timing's not perfect on Angus, I will tell you," he said. "But customers love the product."

Edgy creative
Creative for the burger, breaking tomorrow, attempts to create an "edgy" personality for the product, which McDonald's has been perfecting for the past two years or more. But don't look for scantily clad women or controversial jokes. This is still McDonald's.

The burger comes with a sweet-tasting bun and a choice of toppings including bacon and cheese; mushroom and Swiss; or the classic lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and mayo. The patty itself is a force to be reckoned with. "There's this moment when you sit there and behold it," said Bill Cimino, group creative director, DDB Chicago. "You look for the best point of entry, how to start this thing."

For that reason, he said the agency chose to build ads around the first-look Angus, and where to bite first. A custom-made helmet camera records burger consumption from the eater's perspective. And since McDonald's wanted an edgier, more humorous personality for Angus, Mr. Cimino said DDB came up with "rules to live by" for burger fanatics, such as "your sleeve is not a napkin."

It should surprise no one that McDonald's held Angus in the wings. As the undisputed leader in the burger and fast-food categories, the brand has borne the brunt of industry criticism as well as better-for-you activism. As a result, Mickey D's has spent years launching salads, white-meat chicken nuggets and better-quality coffee. It's also conducted a multiyear effort to address parental concerns about nutritional content, through its Moms Quality Control Panel. But now, weighing in at 750 calories and 39 grams of fat, Ms. Fearon described Angus as a product whose "time has come."

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Creative for the burger attempts to create an "edgy" personality.

Wide appeal expected
Ms. Fearon and Mr. Cimino also said they expect the product to have broad appeal, and not to discount the product's potential with women. McDonald's has, as usual, ordered different creative for each of its major marketing segments. For the African-American market, the work focuses on flavor. For the Asian market, ads focus on toppings. And for the general market, McDonald's focuses on the three ways Angus can be ordered.

The chain will run its first wave of TV commercials for four weeks, and bring Angus back in October, as the centerpiece of its Monopoly promotion. McDonald's won't conduct its usual mass giveaway efforts for Angus, but will offer an online coupon for free fries and a drink with purchase of the new burger on MySpace, YouTube and Ad.com partner sites.

In addition to DDB, Chicago, for the general consumer market, McDonald's agencies for Angus include Tribal DDB, Chicago, for digital; Alma DDB, Miami, for Hispanic; Burrell Communications, Chicago, for African-American consumers; and IW Group, San Francisco, for the Asian market.

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