McD's Rob Jackson Discusses What Drew Him to the Marketing Life

And on How Time at Burrell Focuses His Career

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Rob Jackson, U.S. director of marketing, McD's
Rob Jackson, U.S. director of marketing, McD's
In honor of Black History Month, Ad Age caught up with a number of marketing and advertising executives for a Q&A. The sixth in the series is Rob Jackson, U.S. director-marketing, McDonald's.

AA: What drew you to marketing?

Mr. Jackson: As a novice student, it was simply exciting. The ability to influence consumer behavior and understand consumer behavior was incredible. And to see it applied in a strategic format in the development of communications, plans and programs was fascinating. The pace, the excitement, the ability to measure results and effectiveness were all just things I gravitated to.

AA: After you started your career at Leo Burnett , you went to Burrell. Had you always planned on getting into African-American advertising?

Mr. Jackson: The path was really about opportunity, more responsibility and within a smaller agency--relative to a larger, more structured organization. I had learned a lot being a young gun and I figured I could take on more responsibility. That's what prompted the transition. The Burrell experience gave me a chance to match my cultural insights and cultural passion with my professional expertise, so it was a great incubator.

AA: When you were in school at Florida A&M, were there any advertising stories or marketing people you looked up to?

Mr. Jackson: The McDonald's piece comes to mind. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and it was a very developed McDonald's market. And I remember Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald -- he came out of that market. My connection to the brand goes way back. ... McDonald's was a great influence, and it was something my family connected around. I remember my grandmother loved the French fries -- I mean, that was a thing we'd go out of our way for, to make a trip to McDonald's. . . . As I reconnected with the brand, it brought back all those memories. And in my role today in U.S. marketing, I certainly can appreciate the connection and the power our brand has as a result of the impact it had on me as a kid.

AA: What are your thoughts on segmentation?

Mr. Jackson: In today's diverse marketplace, I think segmented marketing is critical. It's an established discipline. Whether it's based on ethnicity, or age, or sex, segmentation is a way to get to those high-opportunity consumers in a very efficient way. . . . I think we apply it here at McDonald's is particularly effective, because in the context of our general-market work, which is designed to reach everyone, we also have the opportunity ... to talk to [consumers] through a cultural lens. The power of being able to talk to a consumer with multiple points of view that are relevant helps our communication cut through the clutter.

One big example is with the McCafe brand. We were challenged with the African-American consumption of McCafe, and McDonald's was committed to understanding what some of the issues and challenges were that African-Americans had with espresso-based coffee. As a result, we were able to develop some product formulations that were built based on what African-Americans preferred in their coffee.

AA: When you were growing up, did you have any celebrity heroes?

Mr. Jackson: When I grew up, TV was black-and-white and went off at 12 o'clock for the most part. So it was a very different landscape. But I think someone like Bill Cosby stood out as a person that went across cultural lines and was a great representation of a brand and engaged consumers.

AA: A lot of general market and bigger agencies aren't that diverse. Do you think general market agencies are changing and getting more diverse?

Mr. Jackson: I think it's changing. I think clients have to lead that process and let agencies know that it's OK and in some instances it's a requirement. As we look to put together messages and communications and activities that are relevant to consumers, you need diversity within the context of your base, [and] turn that into a strategic advantage.

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