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HomeMarketingMcDonald’s on the insight that shifted its approach to trust

McDonald’s on the insight that shifted its approach to trust

Trust is key for any brand, but it is particularly important for a food brand like McDonald’s. Building that trust is an ongoing task.

The obvious way to ensure consumers are on board is by sharing information and being transparent. But to make sure its message lands, McDonald’s found an insight-driven way to combine humour with facts to drive trust.

“We know the more our customers trust us, the greater affinity they have with us and then the more they spend with us,” McDonald’s consumer insights manager Francesca Springhall said, speaking at the Market Research Society’s annual conference today (12 March).

The quality of the brand’s food is one key pillar of that. Springhall noted it’s something that the brand must “constantly” talk about.

“Generally, when we aren’t talking about food quality, that’s when we see a bit of a drop in how customers perceive how much they trust McDonald’s,” she said.

How McDonald’s made marketing its centre for growth

Over the past 15 years, McDonald’s has managed to facilitate a shift, from a position where the majority of the public didn’t trust the brand, to the opposite now being true.

Around three-fifths of the UK public now agree they trust McDonald’s, according to its own brand trackers. However, there are around a quarter of the public that the brand terms “trust neutrals”, who neither trust nor distrust the brand.

The brand had insight suggesting those “neutrals” tend to be older consumers, who may hold on to notions about the brand from the 1990s and early 2000s.

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Therefore, McDonald’s and its agency partners set out to uncover what the biases and preconceptions of those trust neutrals are to help dispel those notions and move these individuals towards positive trust in the brand.

Speaking alongside Springhall at the event was Dinisha Cherodian, strategy director at insights agency BAMM, who identified that a key challenge of reaching this group of neutrals who have held onto preconceptions is that the work done by McDonald’s over the past 20 to 30 years clearly has not resonated with them.

Cherodian outlined how BAMM worked with extremely in-depth focus groups to uncover biases, and also work out how it could tackle them.

Creating a ‘simple and effective’ framework for collaboration

After collecting all this data and insight, working with its creative agency Leo Burnett, McDonald’s then needed to distil it and find a way of communicating it simply to consumers.

“We had so much information and data evidence, what I actually see as our role is to make it really simple and effective, so the team can just grab it and go off and work with it,” Cherodian said, speaking to Marketing Week.

The classic rule of three can be impactful to simply convey messages from research, she said. In this case, the three focus areas to drive trust that the team identified were the messenger, driving certainty, and humour.

A lot of trust communication in the past has been quite rational and fact-based.

Joe Beveridge, Leo Burnett

The framework passed down by BAMM to Leo Burnett had “really clear creative implications”, said the creative agency’s head of planning Joe Beveridge.

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“A lot of trust communication in the past has been quite rational and fact-based, I think we realised that for people to be receptive to these messages, you need to make them entertaining,” he said.

Humour, therefore, became very important for the campaign. This alongside an insight that consumers were inclined to trust their peers drove a shift in message.

Traditionally, many of McDonald’s food quality-focused campaigns saw farmers deliver the message. The most recent campaign, ‘Keep Up With The Times’, saw consumers deliver the message of food quality.

This also helps to drive certainty, by conveying that McDonald’s food quality is something widely known and that has existed for some time.

“The whole premise of this campaign is around trying to drive reappraisal among that hard-to-reach neutral audience by making negative views about the food feel comically out of date, and having a bit of fun with it,” Beveridge said.

The creative depicts people reacting negatively to those around them getting a McDonald’s. Those displaying a negative reaction are shown decked out in retro outfits, sporting outdated items like pagers, to represent them being stuck in the past. Their negative assumptions are quickly corrected by those around them about the fast-food chain’s long-running quality actions.

The work represented a “really big creative shift” for McDonald’s approach to trust, Beveridge said.

BAMM’s Cherodian noted that this kind of shift in strategy could be perceived as a risk, but said the data was always there to back up that this change would pay dividends.

Consistent buy-in from the top

While the core goal of Keep Up With The Times was driving positive trust among hard-to-get neutrals, it also served to reiterate McDonald’s long-running message of food quality, says Springhall.

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The campaign served to increase the general public’s belief in McDonald’s as a provider of good quality food, but was particularly effective among the over-55s, where many “neutral trust” consumers tend to fall.

Fear and flattery from your agency partners will get you both nowhere

Springhall said the success of the campaign is a result of close collaboration between the brand and its creative and research agency partners.

“It’s very McDonald’s to be collaborative,” she told Marketing Week.

McDonald’s has a long-running “three-legged stool” model, where it recognises suppliers and franchisees, as two essential legs, alongside the company itself, to ensure its stability and success.

Open engagement and staying in contact through the journey is crucial to facilitate the collaborative relationship with its partners, Springhall said.

When it comes to buy-in on projects from the rest of the organisation, Springhall stated her team “takes stakeholders on the journey, right to exec level” and gets buy-in from the start.



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