What's on McDonald's Olympic-Marketing Menu

Q&A: Fast Feeder's 'Biggest Activation Ever' Includes Sending 200 Kids to Event

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- One message, 118 countries.

Since Mary Dillon took over as global chief marketing officer at McDonald's in October 2005, she's been working to strengthen and interpret the company's "I'm lovin' it" ad message -- which she describes as having "the highest level of consumer awareness in words and five notes that you can almost get in a global campaign" -- to consumers around the world.
Mary Dillon on Darfur: Influencing Chinese policy is 'not the role of a corporation.'
Mary Dillon on Darfur: Influencing Chinese policy is 'not the role of a corporation.' Credit: Andreas Larsson

As part of that effort, she's captaining the marketing team for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, which she says will be the company's "biggest activation ever." The plan involves global spots to showcase the chain's history of feeding athletes -- with local twists -- and competitions in 30 countries to select 200 children for trips to the games.

Advertising Age: Why is the Olympic sponsorship so important to McDonald's? Why do you make this a top priority?

Mary Dillon: We certainly are planning to make this our most innovative and probably our biggest activation ever for the Olympics. It's a world stage. It's something that we feel passionately about -- the values of the Olympics and how they connect with the values of McDonald's and how we're going to bring it to life in many different ways that I think will be fun for our customers around the world.

Ad Age: As top sponsor of the Olympics, what action have you taken, if any, regarding China's policy on Darfur?

Ms. Dillon: I would just say that we share the concerns about those issues in that part of the world, and we have certainly been in dialogue with those groups about those issues. By being a sponsor of the Olympics, we are bringing something to the world that I think is absolutely right, which is collaboration, the spirit of sports, the fun and enjoyment of people around the world celebrating something like the majesty of the Olympics. So that's something we do that I think is good for any country.

Ad Age: So you're not planning any action on this?

Ms. Dillon: We as a sponsor feel like that's our role, and there are roles for other organizations really to deal with the issues that you're talking about. And our role is to listen and learn but really be the top sponsor that we are.

Ad Age: Not to, say, dictate international policy?

Ms. Dillon: Well, yeah, that's not the role of a corporation. It just really isn't.

Ad Age: You are using the Olympics to reach out to kids, bringing 200 of them from 30 countries.

Ms. Dillon: They'll meet athletes, they'll tour the places that most people wouldn't be able to tour, they'll certainly see the Olympics, and they'll learn about the cultural and historical aspects of China. And what I think is fun is that some of the kids will be selected if they have an interest in journalism. They'll be able to have blogs and reports that they'll send back home to tell other kids or their local community about their experience at the Olympics.

Ad Age: How are they chosen?

Ms. Dillon: They'll qualify for this in a whole bunch of different ways. China, as the host country, is doing a whole bunch of marketing around the Olympics. They're doing an actual reality show on something called CCTV where they're following groups of kids over multiple months, and they'll go through a bunch of different activities -- mind, body, spirit -- to qualify to be some of the Chinese kids that get to go to the Olympics. And different countries will have their own version of how they identify the children.

Ad Age: You've been instituting a variety of programs to make your ad dollars work harder.

Ms. Dillon: It really starts with our planning and thinking, which maybe sounds obvious. But I'm a big believer in how we think about the consumer empathy, the consumer insight, and [how we] use our resources from the very start. So instead of writing a creative brief for a piece of television, creating that television, and going to the digital agency and saying, "Do something with it," or the promotion agency and saying, "Do something with it," literally imagine a small group, a cross-functional team together from the start, and saying, "Here's the job we want to get done."

Ad Age: How has that affected your marketing mix?

Ms. Dillon: Almost by default, you're going to see a more varied use of media in that end product. So for sure we have increased the amount of digital from practically nothing in the mix to 7% of the mix globally in the last couple of years.
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