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McDonald’s refreshes ‘intangible’ brand purpose

Fast-food giant plans to donate food from supply chain to people in need, and improve routes into employment.

By Diana Bradley

McDonald’s has unveiled a new growth strategy called “Accelerating the Arches” that includes a refreshed purpose, updated values and growth pillars that build on its competitive advantages.

The growth pillars include maximising marketing by investing in “new, culturally relevant approaches to effectively communicate the story of brand, food and purpose” and committing to its core products, “tapping into customer demand for the familiar”.

The chain also plans to double down on “three Ds” it sees as key to growth: digital, delivery and drive-thru. It aims to “leverage competitive strengths and build a powerful digital experience growth engine that provides a fast, easy experience for customers”, it said in a statement.

McDonald’s said its “renewed purpose” would be to feed and foster the communities it serves around the world. Through both actions and communications, the company is looking to make a greater impact by focusing on four areas: responsibly sourcing quality ingredients, driving climate action to protect the planet, connecting with communities in times of need and increasing focus on equity by providing an opportunity for restaurant staff.

According to McDonald’s, this purpose will mean more support for farming communities, and aim to source 100% of packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025, donating “millions of pounds” (in weight) of food from the supply chain and restaurants to people in need, and reducing barriers to employment for more than two million people worldwide.

The brand’s vice-president of global communications, Michael Gonda, said that with new leadership appointments, such as that made last month of Katie Fallon as EVP and chief global impact officer, and the new strategy, “this is the beginning of a new chapter for McDonald’s.”

Previously, McDonald’s purpose and values were “intangible”, he said.

“There had been attempts previously to articulate those, and this felt like an opportunity where they needed to be translated to a more contemporary language. We knew what they were, but we needed to bring it from Shakespearean to modern-day English. We needed to clearly establish what our role is beyond the product we sell and what are the behaviours that let us fulfil that.”

For the past year, McDonald’s leadership has been working with franchisees, employees, restaurant staffers and suppliers worldwide to define its purpose and figure out what actions and areas matter most to customers. That led McDonald’s to the simple premise that it feeds and fosters communities, Gonda said. The purpose gives the brand a clear direction going forward, he added.

McDonald’s renewed focus on its purpose will also come to life in a new campaign, “Serving here”. The campaign will aim to demonstrate the company’s values and illustrate its commitments to the communities, customers, crew, farmers, franchisees and suppliers with which it works.

The integrated campaign will span marketing, paid media and owned channels. A letter from president and CEO Chris Kempczinski to 110 local communities around the US will appear in local newspapers.

“We are grounding our customers in our purpose and in the areas we will have great focus,” Gonda said. “When we think about our 65-year history, this answers the question: what’s next?”

McDonald’s will air three, 30-second ads and a 60-second manifesto spot for the “Serving here” campaign. One spot shows a day in the life of a local farmer as he harvests potatoes that will be served at McDonald’s. Another features a family’s journey through childhood illness, showing how Ronald McDonald House Charities can keep a life-changing diagnosis from changing everything about a child’s life.

The changes follow efforts announced by McDonald’s in July to refresh its values to fight systemic racism and discrimination.

Purpose will guide communications

The new purpose will guide both McDonald’s actions and communications.

“When we are working toward building trust, customers want to understand what are the values of that brand, what are the causes they support and do those align with mine?” Gonda said.

“So we are taking a long, hard look at how we modernise our comms to more clearly and effectively communicate the value and causes we stand for.”

McDonald’s needed to improve the way it communicated its purpose vision, so the company brought on R/GA to help it overhaul legacy platforms such as McDonald’s corporate website, Gonda explained.

The revamped site will go live this week. McDonald’s also tapped Interpublic Group brand experience agency Jack Morton and creative shop Wieden & Kennedy for the purpose strategy launch.

McDonald’s Q3 performance beat analysts’ expectations, with same-store sales up 4.6%. Net sales were down 2% to $5.4bn (£4.1bn), but the chain posted net income of $1.8bn, up from $1.6bn.

The brand also said on Monday morning that it plans to test a meatless burger in several markets in 2021 as it adds “McPlant” menu offerings.

A version of the story originally appeared in PRWeek