Brand Strategy

A brief look into McDonald’s and Wieden+Kennedy’s marketing playbook

Among other strategies, the fast-food chain and its agency created a book of “fan truths” that help guide their campaigns.
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McDonald's via iSpot

· 4 min read

There are plenty of things some folks would have surely liked to leave behind in 2022: Inflation, crypto bros, and butter boards, just to name a few.

There are others that people were likely less eager to let go of: Shows that ended (RIP, black-ish), the Choco Taco, and the McRib, a McDonald’s fan favorite that the brand brought back for a “farewell tour” last year.

”Is this really the last of the McRib?” was one of the most pressing questions posed to Jennifer Healan, VP of US marketing at McDonald’s, and Brandon Pracht, managing director of McDonald’s Global at Wieden+Kennedy, during a presentation the two gave last fall at Marketing Brew’s first annual summit.

There’s been no official word on the McRib’s fate, but Marketing Brew did catch up with Healan and Pracht to ask some other lingering questions.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

In your presentation, you hit on the idea of the more casual tone you’ve used on Twitter. How do you balance having fun and drawing on the voice of your community while maintaining a level of professionalism as a corporate account?

Jennifer Healan: I think one of the biggest pivots and shifts that the brand has had over time and in the last couple of years, especially at the beginning of our partnership with Wieden+Kennedy, has been the shift in our brand voice and how we have stopped talking like a corporation. We talk like a fan. That has been the biggest unlock that we have had as we partnered with Wieden+Kennedy…We think about ourselves in a very self-deprecating way. We actually have a little fun with ourselves, and there’s a sense of wit and charm to it as well.

Brandon Pracht: On social specifically, because there’s less pressure to sell or have campaign points to hit, you’re able to obviously have a lot more fun with it. The group of people that we’ve hired to reflect this voice is very diverse, from very fun backgrounds that are not traditional for advertising, like stand-up comedians. If you love McDonald’s and you’re interacting with our feed, it does feel like it’s coming from your best friend, because it does really reflect the most endearing moments from McDonald’s.

Is there a strategy you use to intentionally build cult followings around a product like the McRib or the Snack Wrap, or is that something that just has to happen naturally?

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BP: It isn’t something we set out to do. It comes to us through the fans. That’s one of those things that you hear both when you talk to fans in any kind of research setting, but more importantly, it’s just what you see in social interactions. You see passion for products on the menu, of course, but then you see the passion for all the products that we’ve had from years past.

At our summit, there were a lot of audience questions submitted about McDonald’s “fan truths.” What are those and how do they guide your marketing?

JH: A fan truth starts every single brief, and every single piece of communication is rooted in fan truths. What is powerful about fan truths is that they are literally truths. They are those small or big things that you love about the brand, whether it’s about our food, whether it’s about an experience, whether it’s a moment, and because it is a fan truth, that goes hand in hand with the brand voice of speaking fan to fan…What has also been really interesting as we’ve continued to curate these fan truths is that they can actually represent entire programs like Famous Orders. It can also launch a campaign like we just did with Cactus Plant Flea Market, which is “You’re never too old to enjoy a Happy Meal.”

Where are these fan truths recorded?

BP: There’s a beautifully designed book that we continue to update, and it’s one of the most fun presentations we go to a couple times a year to hear these updated truths, because there really is no shortage of them…It’s a very useful tool. When someone new comes on at Wieden or McDonald’s, it’s one of the first things we give to them. You can read it for hours.

Are the fan truths ever published, or are they meant for internal work only?

BP: People see them reflected in the creative work all the time. Some of them are a little more strategic than others. Some of them are shaped into executions. They show up directly on social all the time. Whether we would publish the book, I don’t know. That may be something we do at some point.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.