Super Bowl

The Inside Story Behind McDonald's Big Game Giveaway

How the Chain Gave Away Every Product Advertised During the Super Bowl

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McDonald's Super Bowl Scene
McDonald's Super Bowl Scene

On Sunday Feb. 1, teams from DDB Chicago, Golin, the Marketing Store, Twitter, Leo Burnett and McDonald's braved Chicago's fifth-worst snowstorm and gathered at Golin's office for the Super Bowl.

They weren't there to idly watch the game. This group convened to pull off something no one had ever tried before during the Super Bowl: give away every product advertised during the game, tweeting the offers out in real-time.

The effort was one of McDonald's biggest social media plays to date, and certainly its largest giveaway on social media ever. It was also part of the chain's brand refresh rolled out in early January that focuses on the "lovin'" in "I'm lovin' it."

The brand's mission now involves engaging with consumers in new and different ways all while promoting the positive "lovin'" message, said Deborah Wahl, McDonald's U.S. chief marketing officer. "The Super Bowl is the best opportunity to engage with America overall," she said, noting that the chain wants to create dialogue "in a way that's never been done before and would be unexpected from McDonald's."

Pulling off the effort was no small feat and offered ample opportunity for screw ups. It's one thing to tweet during the Super Bowl; it's another to make sure that every tweet is relevant to the ads and what's going on during the game. The tweets also had to pass marketing and legal muster. "It was nuts," said Paul Gunning, CEO at Omnicom's DDB Chicago.

DDB came up with the idea to give away every product advertised during the Super Bowl by tweeting after a spot ad airs and offering a giveaway related to that ad. McDonald's is now picking winners from the 1.2 million retweets, and will contact the victors privately via Twitter by week's end to let them know they've won.

Mr. Gunning said that dozens of people were involved from DDB; Golin, which handles PR for McDonald's; The Marketing Store, which handles McDonald's contests like Monopoly; and McDonald's legal and marketing teams. Omnicom's OMD, which was also present, handles media for McDonald's and bought McDonald's promoted tweets on the day of the Super Bowl. Executives from Burnett, which created the Super Bowl and the brand refresh, were also there.

Given that many marketers had announced they were advertising before the game, the teams were able to prepare some tweets and giveaway ideas in advance, and run them by McDonald's marketing and legal people before the game even started.

"We felt like it was enough to work with," said Ms. Wahl, of the amount of confirmed Super Bowl advertisers. "But also part of it was, 'Can we do this without knowing everything?' We were ready to take that challenge on."

Some brands, like Chrysler, had announced they were advertising but didn't specify a brand or make. So the McDonald's tweet offering the Dodge Challenger, for instance, "was written on the fly," said Ursula Ostrom, VP-agency operations at the Marketing Store.

Everyone had specific tasks. Someone was responsible for yelling out the ad that was airing, letting the teams in front of the computers know so they could figure out whether they had a tweet ready to go or if it was a brand that was unknown. If a tweet had to be developed on the fly, then someone else--Mr. Gunning called this person a runner--would run the copy to McDonald's assembled legal team to get it approved before posting. (Sweepstakes have many more legal hurdles than the garden-variety tweet.)

"It was extremely fast paced, but calm--a very defined process," said Mr. Gunning. "It looked like a trading floor."

That calm came because the agency teams from DDB, Golin and the Marketing Store did what Ms. Wahl called a rehearsal a few days prior, using an National Basketball Association game as the event.

"We had to get the cadence right," said Ms. Ostrom, of the dry run. "The nature of broadcast TV is rapid fire, and understanding that cadence was really important. I'm glad we did it, because until you all actually work on it together you can't know how it's going to work. Figuring out that choreography ahead of time is crucial."

Mr. Gunning said that the agency had people stationed on the east and west coasts to verify whether certain spots were regional or national, since McDonald's was only giving away prizes for national ads.

In all, McDonald's will give away 50 prizes, including cars from Chrysler and Toyota, a $1,000 Victoria's Secret gift card, a trip to Ecuador, and a year's worth of movie tickets. Some prizes were a little more inventive and played off the product or the content of the ads. Based on one Doritos ad, the prize was jetliner tickets and a wheelbarrow full of Doritos. "That was the first time I'd ever had to ask someone to research the price of a wheelbarrow and how many Doritos bags it could hold," said Ms. Ostrom.

Since alcohol can't be part of a sweepstakes, McDonald's gave away a classic arcade machine, a play on the Bud Light ad, which features a life-size game of Pac-Man. In some cases, winners may be able to choose the cash value of the prize instead of the product itself, said Ms. Wahl.

Ms. Wahl said that McDonald's hadn't set strict engagement expectations for the event. "The goal was to reach as many people as we could. It was new, we'd never done it before, so we wanted to see how far does the Twitter universe really go," she said. "The unknown is what made it more fun."

McDonald's got 1.2 million retweets overall, and 25,000 new Twitter followers that day.

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