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In twelve minutes (as I begin this post) McDonald’s Steve Easterbrook will outline his turnaround plan here. This is what I think he should do.

Offer a healthier adjunct menu a la Chipotle. No additives, no preservatives, lower salt – you get the idea. Reduce the number of poorer health products to a handful, but keep them available (for a while). Only allow sale of the healthier for you products in-store while relegating the unhealthier items through the drive-up window.

On the healthier-for-you side of the house, change the menu to add some tasty alternative fair: maybe more fish, veggie burgers, better cheeses, a new class of potatoes and nice drinks. They’ll need to be mass-produced to keep speed up, but that’s where the new innovation must come from. This is where the invention must happen. The price points will go crazy at first, as will earnings, but this is a way forward.

McDonald’s is a great American company. It has not charged with the times or evolved with the science discoveries known to the health and food business. It can. It will. I can’t wait to hear what Mr. Easterbrook has to say.




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I was just reading about the new Pepsi Challenge. It will take place primarily in social media, using Usher, Serena Williams, other personalities and web denizens. From a strategy point of view the only thing I can glean is that the goal is to blend “social responsibility with social culture.” Forgive me but isn’t this “Pepsi Refresh” 4 years later? This time just with expensive spokespeople? Packaged using an old campaign line from twenty years ago?

It almost feels like they rushed the story to market half-baked to beat some Coke announcement or poor earnings report. The effort is going to cost millions globally and, no doubt, will do some good. It may even sell a few cases. But the whole campaign feels very social media bandwagon and derivative. More importantly, it’s non-endemic to the product. Something McDonalds could easily do.

I’m not feeling this marketing effort and suspect it will be nice window dressing for the Pepsi corporate offices and its ad agencies; as for taking a chunk out of Coke’s hide, not going to happen. What’s the Idea?


PS. For WTI posts on Pepsi Refresh, click here. 


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Early on ad agency Strawberry Frog jumped on the smart positioning of creating cultural movements. As someone steeped in the strategy business, I understand how powerful movement ethos can be. Movements are easy to talk about and aspire to, not so easy to create. 

Sales of flat bottled water grew last year by 11% according to Beverage Digest. Sales of sparkling water, sans sweeteners, grew 20%. If you are in the carbonated soft drink (CSD) market, you are smart to see that double digit growth as a movement. A healthier-for-you consumer push. Look at year-over-year store register receipts at McDonalds for further evidence.

Scott Goodson, founder of Strawberry Frog was prescient, with his movement positioning. He knew advertising, done well, can spark a movement. But he really understood it is not the best way to do it and he saw social media coming.

One of my Social Media Guard Rails is “Don’t Sell.” Advertising can’t help itself. It has to sell. Social media, done poorly, also asks for the order. But social media with a consumer-biased motivation — with an organized, well-plotted field of persuasion is a movement waiting for a place to happen. And if you support the movement with not too heavy handed advertising – making it easier for consumers to participate – you have a win. And a new agency revenue model. Peace!




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I read an interesting piece of research today, originally published in Science Magazine. The findings suggested a face-to-face talk with someone about a topic in which the conversation initiator has a stake is an effective communications tool. (Sounds like a duh, no?) The poll was conducted with a sample of 972 people and the topic was gay marriage. The methodology was neighborhood canvassing and the targeted people were against marriage equality. It turns out 20% of people who were engaged by canvassers changed their minds. What’s even more interesting is that only those canvassed by gays maintained that changed opinion 9 months later.

A couple of observations:

  • Nobody likes to be sold. Most door knockers are selling and it’s a nuisance. The script in this case called for canvassers to speak, listen, ask questions, show respect and dig deeper. The robotic spew was left at home.
  • Canvassers with skin the game are more believable and more convincing. Personal connection to the topic reduces the “sales” factor. (Non-gay canvassers altered opinion, but not over time.)

The study suggests a tactic that might be more effective than most in dealing with long time, deep seeded conflicts such as Christians-Muslims and Blacks-Whites. Why wouldn’t it work for Red Sox-Yankees or Burger King-McDonald’s. Tink about it (as my Norwegian Aunt might say.) Peace.


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NYIT is running a new print campaign encouraging people to get into the hi-tech fields. A worthy undertaking indeed. The U.S. is falling behind the world when it comes to educating students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Especially women. So reminding students what lies ahead at colleges and universities that provide these programs is a good idea. Making fun of — no, insulting — people who work in retail, however, is not the way to do it.  Not cool. NYIT has used just such a ploy in its latest ads.

NYIT ads


The largest company in the world is Wal-Mart. NYIT makes fun of them. One of the most powerful brands on the planet is McDonald’s? NYIT makes fun of them. Not by name, by association. But more than just tweaking companies whose riches abound, NYIT makes fun of their employees. And that’s two clicks from vile. Fun is fun. A joke is a joke. Belittling hard workings employees in the retail business…not something a well-educated institution should be doing. Peace.


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A lot of money is going to change hands very soon in the ad industry because of McDonalds rearview mirror planning. Lately, they’ been doing some sideview mirror planning and one could say, with the introduction of salads a few years ago, they were looking beyond the dashboard to the future, but mostly they have looked backwards. Laurels canyon.

Just as Coca-Cola knew a time would come when high-fructose corn syrupy drinks would be seen as unhealthy and share would decline, McDonalds knew a better-for-you-food offering was in the offing. So they introduced salads, made the deep fat fryer less toxic, extended revenue with coffee (an off-piste fix), and reduced the salt on the fries. The freight train was still coming though. All the Millennials you see running around the lake or the park? They are drinking cold pressed juices and Instragram-ing the pics. They’re wi-fing pics of their Mediterranean Veggie sandwiches at Panera. The new generation of fast food buyers is trying to eat better as are their parents.

So while McDonalds was not trying to create a healthier, tastier new burger (veggie?, soy?, buffalo?) or the next branded healthy fast food, other QSRs have taken .2% of same store sales.

The new CMO has done some smart things, no doubt: flattened the organization, faster service, brought in some new ad muscle, but it’s product innovation that is lacking. They will fix it. It is just too bad it took a smack in the nose to wake up. You gots to look beyond the dashboard. Peace.



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McDonald’s is taking a lot of heat for pushing high calorie, high-fat products to children and promoting them with toys in their Happy Meals.  (Full disclosure, the wifus buys happy meals for the value and portion size.)  Michelle Obama is doing good work in this neighborhood, setting the tone and fighting childhood obesity. We all need to jump on that bandwagon.

Here’s my take. If we can put a TV into a phone, we can probably find a tasty, healthy alternative to french fries, soda, cheese burgers and salt.  McDonald’s answer is to reduce the number of fries in the Happy Meal and add some apple slices.  Have you ever had apple slices in a bag? 

So here you go Mickey Ds – get a few chemists in the room, along with some nutritionists, commodity traders and a chef or three and fix this thing.  If anyone can, you can. BTW, I’d love someone to invent a quarter pounder with cheese that doesn’t send my cholesterol all aflutter.  I love that burger but refuse to eat it.   

It’s a big planet.  We grow lots of things on this planet.  In the next millennium we’ll engineer food things that grow that are unlike anything we’ve ever seen or eaten before. Healthy things.  Fast food companies that invent and package good tasting healthy food products will be the new clean tech. (Another area in need of leadership.)  Peace!

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The Burger King Whopper is a great product. Many people, myself included, feel it is far superior to McDonald’s Big Mac.  The problem with BK has always been product consistency. One day a Whopper can be sublime – the perfect fast food burger.  Fresh, crunchy, a perfect combination of backyard BBQ, veg. and condiments (the tomatoes are always an issue in the winter), the next day it can be cold, greasy and sporting an almost fruit cocktail-like mush of ingredients.    

As a student of Burger King, I thought their investment in new broiler technology a year or so ago was going to change the fast food world. It did not. McDonald’s is still kicking their butt in consistency. Broiling is BK’s point of difference, but it won’t hold up to poor in-store execution.

Today a Brazilian consortium of investors by the name of 3G is likely to make a move on Burger King.  In my view they are buying a business and a brand with so much upside it’s scary. The new owners need to establish almost NASA-like precision, though, with regard to product quality, especially in franchise stores. Forget the advertising for the moment. Forget the children’s playrooms and store color palette.  Get the core product right, make it consistent and the category will turn in your favor. Especially as you roll out internationally. Peace!

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McDonald’s just reported sales and they are up 2.2% worldwide, missing analysts’ targets. Sales in the US were expected to be up 2.8% and came in at 1.7%. Value meal wars were partly to blame, but if you ask me the whole McCafe product extension is the cause. The New York Times reported the story – not a big one I might add – and nowhere is there a mention of the McCafe coffee line. I didn’t like the gourmet coffee move when I first read about it, and I don’t like it now. It’s not core.

Burger King, on the other hand, which for all its strategic and tactical ups and sideways owns the idea of “flame broiled,” decided not long ago it wanted to upgrade stores with state-of-the-art broilers. If memory serves, they’re supposed to be installed pretty soon. (I’ll have my fact checker get on it.) This is Russ Klein’s major stroke of genius. Crispin Porter, his agency, does great work and the King is the King, but flame broiling is what sets BK apart — and what should help them take a big chunk out of McDonald’s market share. Peace!

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The new Intel campaign by Venables Bell and Partners sounds a bit unfocused. The idea behind the campaign “Sponsors of Tomorrow” sounds good enough, though a couple of years ago the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) did something similar through Toy-NY which was a bit trite. Intel’s campaign, according to reports, has three different executional ideas which makes it messy:  Portraying Intel R&D people as rock stars, comparing the Intel culture to popular culture ("our clean room isn’t like your clean room"), and showing what the future will be like thanks to Intel (a digital campaign). That’s three ideas, one tagline.  


The new McDonald’s McCafé advertising from DDB, Chicago, on the other hand, is based on a very tight idea. And a powerful idea. When you buy a McCafé beverage, it transforms wherever you are into a café, highlighted by a visual accent popping up on the “e” of the location name. (A commute turns into a commuté, for instance.) Pairing this graphic idea with amazingly lush film of the coffee takes the viewer out of greasy burger heaven and into – in the mind at least — an aromatic French café. Simple. Focused. Evocative. About the product. Peace.   


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