Case Study: Happy Deal: Moms Drafted to Help Give the McDonald’s Brand a Big Mac Makeover

Company: McDonald's Agency: Morgan & Myers, Arc Worldwide Timeframe: 2007 Although McDonald's has had a long history of serving fast food and feeds nearly 27 million U.S. customers every day, there have always been questions about the quality of its products. To dispel the stigmas associated with its image, McDonald's execs sought to create a program that would improve consumer perceptions, especially in the wake of negative pop culture references surrounding the chain--Super Size Me being just one example--and the entire fast-food industry. The McDonald's team turned to Morgan & Myers, a firm that specializes in branding communications within the food category, to reframe messaging around a commitment to quality. "When there are food questions out there, that's where we come in--whether it's at the agricultural and supply chain side or to the consumer side," says Judy Rupnow, counselor of Morgan & Myers. "[When we started working on this program,] we looked at McDonald's and told them they had this amazing quality story to tell. We just need to get it into the hands of some people who can become strong advocates and then tell others in their own words what that story really is." Noting that moms are often the gatekeepers for their family's health and nutrition, as well as key decision makers when it comes to meal choices, the project team saw the impact this demographic could have in delivering the campaign's message in a credible way. Thus, the Quality Moms Correspondents Campaign was born. The team recruited a select few to act as advocates for McDonald's. Wishing to remain neutral during the recruitment process, McDonald's deferred to another agency involved in the program, Arc Worldwide, which then reviewed 4,000 applications from "everyday moms" who wanted be among the six "quality correspondents." Finalists were required to have at least one child at home under the age of 18. They also needed to be at least an occasional McDonald's customer; be concerned about food quality; and be willing to share their opinions. Quality Control During the recruitment process, candidates were asked a battery of questions that would indicate their highest interest when it comes to food quality. The three main areas of concerns were nutrition, food safety and quality ingredients. As quality correspondents, the moms would experience McDonald's food quality firsthand and share their insights with other moms via word-of-mouth (WOM) that would build trust with other moms and, in turn, spread the positive message about the high quality of McDonald's food. In addition to the WOM component, Arc Worldwide also helped design a Web site ( to serve as the linchpin of the campaign. To help build the planning portion of the campaign, the team conducted multiple research studies that documented the perceptions target audiences have about the quality of its food as the search for quality correspondents continued to progress. Among the research findings: Customers, particularly moms, believe the quality of McDonald's food is not fresh and is processed; Customers are not comfortable eating at McDonald's regularly, feeling that its menu is less nutritious than comparable everyday kids' favorites; and Customers are not aware that they can order menu items to their tastes and meal planning preferences. Then, in March 2007, McDonald's commissioned a survey conducted by GfK Custom Research that revealed that 89% of moms feel it is "very" or "somewhat important" that fast-food restaurants provide more information about food quality. When asked about the single most important factor regarding quality in fast-food restaurants, 47% of respondents said nutritional contents; 26% said ingredients; and 26% said food safety. Pre- and post-event research was also conducted among the six moms/quality correspondents as well as among those who registered to be part of the correspondents' online quality community. This research set benchmarks and tracked progress against several main issues, which included perceptions about quality of fast food in general; quality of McDonald's in comparison with its peers; specific quality and nutritious information needs; willingness to recommend McDonald's and trust that McDonald's has their best interests in mind. The project team then outlined three objectives: Improve willingness to recommend McDonald's by 10% among U.S. mothers who eat at quick-serve restaurants; Improve trust in McDonald's by 10% among mothers; and, Create a database of at least 1,000 individuals interested in learning more about McDonald's food quality. They're Lovin' It After the moms were chosen, the team had to document the correspondents' experiences as they unfolded. Three field trips gave moms access to the behind-the-scenes operations as they asked questions and witnessed firsthand how McDonald's menu items are made. During the field trips, the moms talked with McDonald's nutritionists, menu development staff, food quality and safety experts and senior leadership; they also met with suppliers to discuss food safety and quality. They also worked with a McDonald's executive chef in his test kitchen and toured a beef processing supplier facility, an apple orchard and a supplier operation. And, to round out their experiences, the moms worked and explored being behind the counter at a McDonald's restaurant. Each field trip was documented through videos, photos and journal entries. Three videos captured the group's adventures and were posted on the Web site at the end of each field trip. Then the correspondents wrote seven journal entries documenting their journey, which included their perceptions, concerns and impressions about the food quality at McDonald's, as well as what they learned on each trip and how their perceptions had changed along the way. McDonald's Moms At the end of the program, the six moms became brand proponents for McDonald's. Their experiences not only altered their previous misconceptions about the restaurant's food quality; they also built their trust in McDonald's menu offerings. The results of the campaign were measured as follows: Among the six quality correspondents, perceptions about fast-food quality improved from an average of 7 to 9.1 on a 10-point scale. Five out of six strongly agreed that they trusted McDonald's as having their best interests in mind and most strongly agreed that they would recommend McDonald's to friends and family; More than 16,000 moms, influentials and other visitors followed the correspondents' journey online; Nearly 1,400 enrolled in the online quality community. Among them, 13% participated in the follow-up study; trust in McDonald's increased among 64% of them; and willingness to recommend McDonald's increased among 55%; and, The story garnered substantial attention in the blogosphere, with coverage in more than 100 blogs. As the program continues into its second year, the project team has focused on how they can improve it. Making the program more interactive between the moms and consumers has been a priority. Whereas last year, the online experience didn't have a two-way dialogue between the moms and the campaign's Web site visitors, this year there will be blogging galore. Kicking off this year's campaign in March was a Webcast hosted by I Village, which segued into a live Q&A between the moms, consumers and media. These overall components foster an atmosphere of transparency that's integral to the success of the program. "It allows people to make their own decisions," says Rupnow. And although the program has lost one of its moms due to family obligations and time conflicts, the remainder are staying on and still very much engaged. "They don't get paid, but they feel they're getting a special opportunity to learn about something that no one else gets," says Hayes. "They feel empowered to talk about it because they want to educate their peers to make educated choices for their family." PRN CONTACTS: Judy Rupnow,; Tara Lazarus Hayes, Winning Over The Critics One of the prime obstacles McDonald's had to overcome in its Quality Moms Correspondents Campaign, according to Tara Lazarus Hayes (manager of McDonald's U.S. communications) and Judy Rupnow (counselor at Morgan & Myers), was to win over detractors who may harbor deep-seated skepticism regarding the quality of its food items. "Critics wanted to know that we were providing these moms with an authentic, transparent experience," says Hayes. "There's always going to be people who are going to say it's sanitized and created specifically for these moms." When dealing with critics, "ask them what they want to know and then address those issues within the confines of the program," says Rupnow. Building Networks Via Synergy Mastering logistics via committee--in this case, two agencies and McDonald's--would be a trying proposition for most campaigns. Fortunately, in this instance, it led to positive results. "From a program manager's standpoint, it really takes a village to get a program like this to operate fully," explains Tara Lazarus Hayes, manager of McDonald's U.S. communications. "Everybody is bringing together his or her expertise. Morgan & Myers, from a content standpoint, really helped us to shape our overall program strategy--how we were going to help develop the content for the experiences that the moms would [go through] along the way. Arc Worldwide's expertise was [helping recruit the moms] and producing a great online presence for the moms to talk about what they learned." A key challenge, though, was the newness of the program. "It was really a pilot program last year," says Hayes. "We weren't quite sure what was going to happen next. We decided that if we're transparent and providing experiences for these women to see who we really are, it's going to play out in a positive way." It did help that McDonald's had a network of supportive contacts that facilitated the implementation of the program. "One of the opportunities that we were able to leverage well was the full support from critical people, specifically in supply chains that really wanted to help tell the story and bring all of what McDonald's does behind the scenes to these moms," says Judy Rupnow, counselor of Morgan & Myers. The role the suppliers played in the campaign was of inestimable importance. "They were integral," says Hayes. "With them, we had a whole system alignment. That's what keeps this program active and successful." (The program will be continuing throughout 2008, but not with Morgan & Myers; their responsibilities will be taken over by GolinHarris, which has worked on previous initiatives for McDonald's. According to both Hayes and Rupnow, this is an amicable arrangement and has to do with the need for "programming consolidation." Hayes notes that working with Morgan & Myers "has been nothing less than an exceptional experience.")

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