What New CMO Has in Store for McDonald's

Aims to Keep Golden Arches the Gold Standard of Fast Feeders With Beverage Line

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Neil Golden isn't much of a coffee drinker. That could be thought of as a bit strange, considering the 46-year-old chief marketing officer of McDonald's USA is charged with steering the brand through its hotly anticipated specialty-coffee rollout. Bottled beverages, frappes and smoothies will follow in the next few years as the fast feeder undertakes its largest new-product-platform introduction since breakfast made its debut in the 1970s.
Photo: Tim Klein

Neil Golden: Expect the same quality, without any of the attitude.

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A former tennis pro, Mr. Golden will need all his skills as he wields the Golden Arches' $1.7 billion marketing budget in an intensively competitive market and a resurgent rival in Burger King. In addition to the drinks rollout, where the company is finalizing its national marketing strategy, (Mr. Golden said only that the messaging will lack the "attitude" found elsewhere), McDonald's is taking bolder steps into digital this year, including a Big Mac campaign launching this week that invites consumers to mix their own version of the old jingle on MySpace.

Though he generally passes on the java, Mr. Golden says he does eat everything on the menu. At a recent lunch, he scarfed down a Big Mac, Southwest chicken salad and sweetened iced coffee, taking a yogurt parfait to go. ("You've got to believe me," he said. "I'm going to eat it all.")

While McDonald's U.S. same-store sales have slipped relative to the King in recent months, Mr. Golden maintains that the company is strong.

Advertising Age: It doesn't seem like McDonald's could have created a better environment to roll out lower-priced specialty-coffee drinks. How much are circumstances such as the economy and competitors' problems helping out?

Neil Golden: This is a broader circumstance where we've watched the marketplace. We know the size of the category, we know the growth of the category, but more importantly, we know what our consumers are interested [in]. We know this is a set of products that our consumers are telling us they love and we're excited about bringing it to them.

Ad Age: Should we expect irreverent ads for the introduction?

Mr. Golden: You can expect a bit of the quality of McDonald's, maybe without some of the attitude that other places may offer.

Ad Age: What do you like about your current advertising?

Mr. Golden: I like the authentic feel of the advertising, because it is in the perspective of the consumer, and I like the pride and confidence that our advertising represents today. So when you're in touch with consumer needs and you're having a conversation with the consumer about how our brand can fit into their lives, I think it's a great success.

Ad Age: Is your budget going to grow this year?

Mr. Golden: I certainly anticipate that our overall marketing investment will grow this year over last year, and I believe it will grow in 2009 over 2008. I think that's a reflection of the importance of marketing and the system's commitment to continuing to present the brand for all of the different features that we offer.

Ad Age: In the Big Mac campaign launching this week, you're bringing back the chant: two all-beef patties, special sauce, etc. What's new about this?

Mr. Golden: Customers will be able to go online, create or mix their own version of the two all-beef patties jingle through MySpace. We're going to take what we believe to be the best of all of those submissions and we're actually going to put that on air for the last couple of weeks of the campaign, so the creative will have a natural, built-in freshening for the last couple of weeks of the flight.

Ad Age: Why Big Mac? Why now?

Mr. Golden: Featuring Big Mac is a natural for the brand. It's the flagship product of our brand and a large and growing category, being burgers. For me, I can't think of a better representation of the brand and the personality of the brand without having Big Mac coming to the forefront.

Ad Age: We're almost five years into "I'm lovin' it." How long can this really go on?

Mr. Golden:As far as I can see, and probably beyond that. The campaign is a marvelous idea; the campaign line is clearly one of the most recognized in the world. We believe this to be an asset, and we think most importantly it's an asset because it resonates with our customers.

Ad Age: Can you speak to the challenges associated with the value menu and rising commodity costs?

Mr. Golden: The dollar menu is part of our Plan to Win, and the marketing plan that supports it was designed to work in any business environment, whether the economy is more challenging or the economy is growing at a brisk pace. And the reason that it's designed to win is that it's customer-grounded and it's balanced with the needs of the business. So the dollar menu and the anchor of this being the double cheeseburger continues to be a strong contributor to overall business success.

Ad Age: But it's got to change some time, right?

Mr. Golden: There was a time when we sold a 15¢ hamburger. We're not doing that anymore. There was a time when we sold an Egg McMuffin for 99¢ everyday. We're not doing that anymore. So do I expect that the double cheeseburger is going to be on the menu for a dollar forever? Well, no, based on that history. But the commitment to do it and the facts supporting its contributions to the business [are in place].
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