OAK BROOK, Ill. -- For the first time, nearly all of McDonald's Corp.'s 13,700 U.S. outlets are using the same promotional signs, rather than the "McJumble" of different motifs that executives say have cluttered stores and confused customers in the past, the Wall Street Journal said.
The new promotional strategydubbed "Simple Bold"echoes steps being taken by other marketers to put more focus on promotions within retail stores, amid rising doubts about traditional marketing techniques such as TV advertising. "In-store marketing is a critical component [image-nocss] to the success of many businesses, as consumers are increasingly tuning out ads," Jenny Cacioppo, an executive vice president at Arc Worldwide, a marketing-services unit of Publicis Groupe SA that is helping McDonald's implement the strategy, told the newspaper.
McDonald's effort to coordinate its in-store promotions, implemented gradually during the past year, is one of a number of steps the fast-food chain has taken to boost sales in the aftermath of a slump earlier this decade, said the report.
Done well, in-store advertising can prod customers to purchase more goods, try products they might not have considered and spend more time in a retail environment, said Cacioppo.
"I try to put myself in the customer's shoes," Marlena Peleo-Lazar, McDonald's U.S. chief creative officer, told the newspaper. "I don't feel like going in there and having my head spin."
Streamlining in-store promotions could pose a bigger challenge for McDonald's than it does other companies, the report said. Unlike most retailers, McDonald's owns only a minority of its outlets. About 85% of McDonald's U.S. stores are controlled by independent business operators under franchise agreements. Franchisees do not have to go along with every corporate dictate, which can make it tough for the Oak Brook, Ill., company to implement chainwide decrees.
Before the new strategy was introduced at the start of last year, the visual design of promotional signs erected in stores frequently clashed, as different signs sported different colors and typefaces. Managers would leave old signs up long past the end of promotions.
The new initiative is designed to change all that, introducing signs that work off the same color and typeface schemes. McDonald's marketing executives have emphasized to local managers that promotions should be put up and taken down according to scheduleone way of ensuring that the restaurants are in sync with national promotions.
McDonald's has abandoned its practice of using highly stylized photographs of food, in favor of photographs that show food just as it might appear on a customer's tray. "Overstyling food looks unnatural," said Jim Carlton, an executive creative director at Arc. "Over time, consumers are going to be able to say, 'Those are real to me. Those are real onions. That is a real strawberry'."
The effort required almost a year's worth of complex logistical work, the Journal said. It was rolled out in January at a limited number of restaurants and expanded to the rest of the chain in subsequent months. Eventually, about 50 ad firms working for McDonald's restaurant operators across the country were called upon to help implement it. So many people were involved that in May, as McDonald's was promoting its Fruit & Walnut Premium Salad through its in-store effort, details were communicated to many ad-agency staffers via a webcast. The rest were contacted by phone.
Details of how Simple Bold signs should be designed were laid out in a 40-page guide distributed throughout the chain. McDonald's has set up an email help desk for local ad firms to get followup information. It was not until November that Arc, in a meeting with the 50 ad firms, was sure that all facets of the program had been adopted.
Getting all of McDonald's franchisees to stick to the same promotional schedule has required cooperation of local managers often used to going their own way. Some managers run their own promotions tied to local events, such as "outrageous value day" promotions offered in the Chicago and northwest Indiana area on days such as April 15, the filing deadline for tax returns. The new signs did not work as well for such promotions because they focused mainly on food and price, David Brot, an account director at Publicis's Leo Burnett, who works with McDonald's restaurants in that region, told the paper.
Brot added that it took "a lot of work" to redesign signs in that area to fit with the new strategy. Nearly all of McDonald's restaurants are now participating in the program, a spokesperson said.
Another complication: McDonald's had to involve its food suppliers, including Campbell Soup Co., which want to use the restaurants to promote their own wares. Campbell Soup generally changes its point-of-purchase (POP) advertising in McDonald's restaurants every two to three years, said the report. Its last update was completed in 2004, but McDonald's new initiative required another overhaul last year, Lisa Holtsinger, a Campbell national account manager who oversees the company's McDonald's relationship, told the paper.
Campbell Soup had to replace such things as plastic counter signs set up on cardboard easels and signs on drive-through menu boards. Campbell pays for most of its own POP advertising in McDonald's restaurants, but the ability to have its brand name appear in front of thousands of McDonald's customers is a valuable one, she said. "There might be a little bit of a cost, but the bottom line is we have more McDonald's stores serving soup. McDonald's is really trying to clean up the store and not have as many messages out there. We have to stay within the guidelines of what they say," she said.