|McDonald's plan to hip-hop its image with rap music extoling the virtues of Big Macs has stalled.
Earlier this year, McDonald’s Corp. unveiled plans to enlist rap artists to produce several songs that would integrate the Golden Arches’ iconic Big Mac sandwich into lyrics. The move, as first reported by Madison & Vine in March, was to be part of the company’s ongoing strategy to court the youth market, especially young men, through hip-hop.
McDonald’s hired Lanham, Md.-based entertainment marketing firm Maven Strategies to oversee the development and production of the songs. The company has generated interest from advertisers after successfully integrating Seagram's gin into five rap songs from artists such as Kanye West and Petey Pablo. Mr. Pablo's "Freek-a-leek" ended up as the No. 2 hip-hop song of 2004, according to Billboard, and played over 350,000 times on the radio. Part of the lyrics: "Now I got to give a shout out to Seagram's Gin/Cause I'm drinkin' it and they payin' me for it."
McDonald’s plan was to adopt the way rap artists have previously endorsed products in their songs -- from Run-DMC's "My Adidas" to Busta Rhymes's "Pass the Courvoisier." Missy Elliott and Ludacris have name-dropped Cadillac’s Escalade, while Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Bentley, Porsche, Gulfstream, Dom Perignon and Dolce & Gabbana have been heard in tracks from Nelly, Lil’ Kim, Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, among others. Last year, Kanye West mentioned 19 brands, including Lexus, Versace, Cartier, Mercedes and Cadillac in four singles, according to American Brandstand, which tracks the number of brands music acts mention in their songs.
McDonald’s will pay artists as an incentive to produce a hit -- paying artists from $1 to $5 every time their song is played on the radio.
Final lyrics approval
Since landing the job, Maven has met with several rappers, record labels and producers with the Big Mac proposal and has even taken several of the submitted tracks to McDonald’s. The fast-food giant receives final approval of the lyrics, but it will ultimately allow artists to decide how the sandwich is integrated into the songs. Lyrics are to focus on the Big Mac alone, and not necessarily mention McDonald's or the Golden Arches.
A McDonald’s spokesman said the project is still alive.
“We have not identified the right opportunity,” the spokesman said. “We are open to ideas to positively reflect our brand but we have not yet identified the match that we’ve been looking for.”
Not helping matters is a recent high-level executive shuffle at the Golden Arches.
In August, Quaker Foods president Mary Dillon was tapped to successed Larry Light, McDonald’s chief global marketing officer. Ms. Dillon takes the new post in October.
Mr. Light, who will retire at year’s end, is credited with reigniting the restaurant chain’s sales and overhauling its marketing plan -- which includes the "I'm lovin' it" strategy and efforts to resonate with the youth market through urban culture.
The controversy that erupted over McDonald’s plans also may not have helped produce the Big Mac-injected tracks any faster.
After plans were revealed, the project quickly found itself in the crosshairs of America’s child-obesity fighters, and drew the ire of watchdog group the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which called McDonald’s plan “new and deceitful ways of targeting children. ... Listeners won't know the rappers are being paid to push Big Macs -- these 'adversongs' are inherently deceptive."
McDonald's countered, saying, "This is where brand relevance has gone and we have great confidence that the consumer understands this," a spokesman said. "[Consumers are] cognizant of this as a placement in brand strategy. ... We believe that the McDonald's brand is so omnipresent already in America that having it in music, having it in TV, having it in movies, is no more intrusive than anything else children experience nowadays."
The Big Mac project isn’t the only one that remains stuck in development hell.
McDonald’s still has yet to reveal the new uniforms it is designing with the help of designers such as Russell Simmons’ Phat farm, Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Sean John, Tommy Hilfiger, Fubu and American Apparel, among others. First reported by Advertising Age in July, McDonald’s hopes to turn its uniforms into hip street wear, and use its army of young employees as walking billboards as they circulate among their peers.
Those close to the projects say McDonald’s may be developing a strategy to introduce both the songs and uniforms at the same time, considering their close ties to the hip-hop community. Ms. Dillon is considering that as one of her first tasks. She is also overseeing the next generation of McDonald’s "I’m lovin’ it” campaign, scheduled to break in April.
Either way, the delays should not be considered a sign that McDonald’s is shying away from entertainment. In fact, that’s hardly the case, as the company has been using entertainment to aggressively court young adults, rather than children, as it has in the past.
The strategy has included the company’s “Are You Mac Enough?” campaign, a three-week promotion with House of Blues Entertainment to promote the Big Mac through a sweepstakes that ran from April through May offering consumers a chance to win concert tickets and prizes by using promotion codes found on Big Mac boxes. Events and mobile phone text messages were also integrated into the promotion.
And in Hollywood, McDonald’s has brokered a two-year non-exclusive marketing and promotional pact with DreamWorks Animation SKG, kicking off with Shrek 3 in 2007. The burger chain is in the final stretch of an exclusive 10-year deal with the Walt Disney Co. that ends in 2006.
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Kate MacArthur and T.L. Stanley contributed to this report.