CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Mary Dillon, CMO of McDonald's, one of the few companies to thrive during the recession, talks marketing in a downturn, advertising to kids, and niche promotions within the context of one global message. While the chain continues to boost digital as a percentage of spend, she's also focusing on "old media," like outdoor.
Ad Age: What have you learned about marketing in this recession?
Ms. Dillon: For us, it's about continuing to play our game and stay on our strategy to keep our brand relevant for people. I like to say we're in the busy-lifestyles business, which is a growth industry. People aren't less busy; they're probably busier. But by virtue of the fact that that we offer food people love, it's a comfort. Our entire menu is a great value, and with the convenience we offer, including delivery in some markets, the play in our playbook is pointing out the advantage of the breadth of our offerings and leveraging it up to an emotional level.
Ad Age: So how do you modify your approach when communicating with parents as opposed to kids?
Ms. Dillon: We know from research that parents around the world are interested in food quality and food choice, and our marketing to parents educates them on those topics, like [a] recent TV spot in the U.K. Kids want to have good-tasting food and associate our brand with fun. So we've been talking to children using entertainment properties but oriented around food choice. With "Madagascar 2," we pointed out that Apple Dippers count as one of your five [servings of fruits and vegetables] a day.
Ad Age: And that's a big deal in the U.K.?
Ms. Dillon: What's great is by virtue of the food we're advertising, we're still able to communicate to children, whereas in a market like Sweden, we haven't been able to talk to children for years. It's a global trend, but I feel our brand is in a position that we can engage with stakeholders and parents and continue to market our brand in a way that's right for the times.
Ad Age: What's another example of a culturally specific promotion?
Ms. Dillon: In Japan, we've recently launched Quarter Pounder and Quarter Pounder With Cheese as a new product. Our Japanese team is really interested in how to react to buzz, so they launched it in a very innovative way. They called it a quarter-pounder restaurant -- not branded -- and all they served was Quarter Pounders. So the buzz got out, and we later unveiled it as McDonald's and moved Quarter Pounder onto the regular menu.
Ad Age: You've talked about the right digital campaign at the right time. What's an example?
Ms. Dillon: We just launched the McFlurry in France, and the whole idea was you can customize it with toppings. TV was a big part of it, but the biggest piece was mobile, online games and ringtones you can send to friends, and it was all about customizing your McFlurry. In Japan, we're testing something quite exciting with Nintendo about capturing the hearts of tweens. In Japan, about 90% of tweens own a Nintendo, and it's growing in the U.S., too, but we're testing something in our restaurants where you can get free Nintendo things -- characters, games -- that you can demo. It's an exciting way to leverage what's hot in Japan with a trip to McDonald's.
Ad Age: You've said digital is about 7% of worldwide spend. What other media are getting more marketing dollars?
Ms. Dillon: One of the things we've increased is outdoor. Talk about "old media." No offense to outdoor companies, but it's been around for a while. If you do it the right way, you can do it in a pretty cost-effective manner. In Piccadilly Circus, we've owned a billboard for many years, but we really ramped up innovation around that to make it more fun and relevant [from Leo Burnett, London].
Ad Age: Tell me about the decision to go to Cannes this year.
Ms. Dillon: We'll be holding our creative-directors forum. As you can imagine, we're a big company with a fair number of people around the world. To get the creative together, we're talking about something that takes a lot of alignment and strategic work. So we bring together our creative directors and have sessions on what's working, what's not working and how can we get better. It's not fancy, not formal -- everyone's in jeans -- and it's a time to get aligned with our brand. We leave there with a powerfully good feeling about what we're doing, and people are excited about McDonald's right now, so it's good time to do it. I've also been asked to speak on a panel with other CMOs, including Kraft, for WPP and Sir Martin Sorrell.