Marlena Peleo-Lazar Departs as McDonald's U.S. Chief Creative

Longtime Golden Arches Exec Integral to Creative, 'I'm Lovin' It'

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McDonald's U.S. Chief Creative Officer Marlena Peleo-Lazar is leaving the chain, Ad Age has learned.

Ms. Peleo-Lazar is a key player in advertising creative for McDonald's, which spent $1.43 billion in U.S. advertising last year, and was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the company's global "I'm lovin' it" tagline.

Marlena Peleo-Lazar
Marlena Peleo-Lazar Credit: McDonald's

A 14-year company veteran, Ms. Peleo-Lazar oversees creative execution of national and local marketing for the chain, coordinating and approving thousands of pieces of creative. She also has input on strategy for creative briefs, concepts and their ultimate execution, according to people familiar with the company.

"As the Chief Creative Officer for one the most recognizable brands in the world, Marlena Peleo-Lazar has had significant influence at McDonald's and in the advertising industry overall. We've been 'lovin it,'" said McDonald's, when asked about the departure. "After 14 years, Marlena is leaving McDonald's. We wish her the best in her new endeavors."

The shift comes as McDonald's seeks ways of refeshing "I'm lovin' it," and recently wrapped a pitch for rebranding ideas that was won by Publicis' Leo Burnett. A new campaign is expected next year.

Ms. Peleo-Lazar has historically reported the U.S. chief marketing officer, according to executives familiar with the job. Deborah Wahl, McDonald's new CMO, took on that post in early March.

Since joining the Golden Arches, Ms. Wahl has shaken up some of McDonald's marketing processes, taking on more direct oversight than her predecessor in areas such as agency relationships and partnerships between McDonald's and brands like Disney or the NBA.

Ms. Wahl has also regiggered the department's organization. No longer is marketing grouped by product -- with a lead for beef or chicken for example. It is now organized by consumer groups, such as millennials (long a sore spot for McDonald's), families and adults.

The Golden Arches has been going through a number of executive shuffles of late. In August, McDonald's tapped its first U.S. digital VP, Julia Vander Ploeg. Ms. Vander Ploeg reports to the chain's chief digital officer, Atif Rafiq, who joined McDonald's in October, though she will also work closely with Ms. Wahl. Joel Yashinsky, McDonald's CMO in Canada, was also recruited to the U.S. business recently, although it's not yet clear what his new role will entail.

McDonald's most senior shift is the departure of U.S. president Jeff Stratton, who is succceded by Mike Anders. Mr. Stratton, named U.S. president in late 2012, has been under intense pressure to reverse McDonald's domestic sales slide.

The chain's global same-store sales last year grew 0.2%, while U.S. same-store sales declined 0.2% and comparable guest counts declined 1.6%. Calling 2014 something of a "reset" year, executives reiterated their commitment to paring down the menu to focus on core products, as well as improving marketing and investing in digital. McDonald's has been making new steps in digital with tests in mobile payment and the opening of a San Francisco office.

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