2008 Creativity Award Winner: McDonald's: Fresh Salads

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Getting a vertical garden to grow in the midst of a city known for its foul weather must have involved a stroke of luck for Leo Burnett, Chicago.Following its innovative "Sundial" billboard of 2006—which saw the shadow of the golden arches move across a lineup of McDonald's staples, according to the hour of their appropriate consumption—Burnett pulled off yet another inventive outdoor execution for McDonald's Fresh Salads. Occupying the same Chicago billboard across from Wrigley Field as awards-darling "Sundial," this effort to promote the fast food behemoth's salads also harnessed the power of the sun, only this time, it literally brought the "freshness" claim to life. What's better than food porn of farm-fresh produce? Well, how about the food itself? The sign actually grew 16 types of lettuce in a vertical garden planted on the billboard. In addition to Burnett's idea-makers, the endeavor required the genius of a horticulture expert, his students, a set builder and a team of gardeners. The seeds, from all types of lettuce used in McDonald's salads, were planted in soil-based materials and arranged to spell two words. Over three weeks, the sprouts grew to fill out "Fresh Salads." One of the largest greens distributors in the U.S., McDonald's claims to have sold more than 486 million salads since the product's inception in 2003. As for the direct results of the campaign, local nurseries told Burnett that lettuce seeds sales increased after the month the billboard ran. Hopefully Mayor Daley chalks this one up to the ad industry doing its part to green the city.

Q&A with Leo Burnett, Chicago CD/AD Vince Cook and AD Brian Shembeda

What brief did you get from the client? What were your objectives on this particular project?

Cook: McDonald's had a specific assignment: promote salads, specifically the freshness and quality of McDonald's ingredients.

How did you come up with the idea? What factors led you toward outdoor in the first place?

Shembeda: We decided that a living garden would be the ultimate way to support this claim. It wasn't hard to make the leap to a billboard. With fresh salads, the medium is very much the message. Outdoor was the only media that allowed us to do so.

Were you trying to leverage the success of the 2006 "Sundial" effort? What kind of risks were you taking by staging another outside-the-box action in the same place?

Cook: "Sundial" was a huge challenge to pull off and, as a result, it got a lot of attention—both in the neighborhood and globally. We wouldn't say that we were trying to leverage that success per se, but we did want to challenge ourselves to the same (or bigger) extent again.

What were some of the most interesting challenges of this project?

Shembeda: As you might expect, growing a vertical garden is very tricky. The billboard wasn't terraced or flattened, so we depended heavily on our whole team of gardeners, horticulturalists—really everyone—to think through how this would work. When we put all of our heads together, we ended up with a wonderful result. This is a great example of all kinds of people working together toward a shared goal. The week before the billboard went up, Chicago had a huge storm, a "tree breaker" that blocked many of the roads around the board. The size of the storm made us think twice about trying to grow a garden in the middle of unpredictable weather. But, we did it anyway—and we were thankfully spared another storm!

What are the challenges of doing work in fast food marketing?

Cook: Obviously, it's a really competitive field in which to market. We think that our team has dealt with this by being consistently innovative in everything we do for McDonald's—from retail design to our TV ads to our billboards. Each time, we aim to create a piece of communication that people can actually enjoy.

Today, what role does creativity play in invigorating a well-established brand like McDonalds?

Cook: Creativity is everything. Today, the challenge is no longer about creating awareness; we use creativity to empower people to build an emotional relationship with brands. Through creativity, we create content that is interesting, interactive, useful and, above all, entertaining.

Check out more of the 2008 Creativity Award winners.
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