Welcome to the exciting world of fast-food marketing that embodies the “think global, act local” philosophy! McDonald’s golden arches serve as a prime example of “how to create a digital marketing strategy for fast food restaurants.”
The iconic brand, whose restaurants in the United States are located within 3 minutes of each other, has perfected the art of adapting its marketing strategy to suit the unique tastes, preferences, and cultural intricacies of various global markets.
By blending innovation, adaptability, and a deep understanding of local consumer behaviors, McDonald’s has crafted a dynamic and highly successful marketing approach, captivating customers in hundreds of countries.
From tasty McFlurries in Mumbai to the McCafé experiences in Paris, let’s explore how McDonald’s tailors its marketing strategy to resonate with the various communities it serves.
Back to the Future: McDonald’s Legend
Back in 1948, the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California. As of 2023, McDonald’s is one of the world’s leading and most successful food service companies with over $43 billion in sales from more than 40,000 franchises globally.
However, this company didn’t achieve rapid growth and its current position through hard work alone but also by implementing its well-built marketing strategies for fast food restaurants.
When the company was searching for new ways to catch the attention of customers in the 1970s, they launched the Happy Meal, one of their most outstanding achievements.
This led to the world’s first Happy Meal, a combination of meals suitable for children, including a free toy that placed McDonald’s on the death center among children’s sites globally.
McDonald’s includes specific aspects of its service and products like packaging, looks, and desirability. This includes non-tangible and tangible features of the services and products.
In the means of localization as the primary strategy, McDonald’s had studied the manners of the Indian clients and various menus as compared to its menu presented in the global market. The company has kept the product range limited on purpose and they eliminated beef, mutton, and pork burgers from their menu.
The marketing mix of McDonald’s highlights how the company combines internationalization and globalization, according to other fast food chains.
Unpacking McDonald’s Marketing Strategy
How can you serve billions of customers each year? Of course, your success is due in large part to your effective digital marketing strategy. Like the fast food giant does.
McDonald’s marketing strategy focuses on appealing to a wide range of customers, from young children to families, and even to health-conscious consumers (with their catchy slogans, such as “I’m Lovin’ It” and “Have It Your Way.“) In that section, we will explore McDonald’s overall advertising strategy.
McDonald’s Potential Customers: 3P Target Audience
As well-known, McDonald’s target audience is “extremely” broad. The company markets to people of all ages, genders, and income levels. However, the brand does focus on key segments, such as families with young children, millennials, and young professionals.
We also know that McDonald’s uses a 3P target audience to address its advertising & marketing campaigns. By operating a variety of third-party data sources – demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data – to create audience segments that are relevant to its products & services.
For instance, McDonald’s might target its ads for Happy Meals to families with young children, or its ads for “Create Your Taste” to millennials while targeting health-conscious consumers with its menu options, such as salads and smoothies.
At that point, it is possible to say that data clicked to age, gender, location, income, household size, education level, values, lifestyle, app usage, and social media activity act as a source for the fast food chain to target its advertising and marketing campaigns in addition to personalizing its customer experience (CX).
McDonald’s Brand Positioning
Brand awareness Oscar goes to McDonald’s, for sure.
McDonald’s has successfully marketed itself for decades based on core values of convenience, affordability, and fun.
The restaurant is well-known for providing fast and tasty food at an affordable price, making it a popular destination for families and friends worldwide. The brand’s emphasis on creating a welcoming atmosphere and maintaining high standards has contributed to its widespread recognition.
In addition to offering play areas for kids and convenient takeout options, McDonald’s has also made impressive strides in the digital space, achieving impressive feats. Its digital marketing strategy is constantly evolving to keep up with the latest trends & technologies.
Another great example that reminds customers of their childhood:
The company is always looking for new ways to reach and engage its target audience online, by using a variety of online channels and tactics including SEM, SEO strategies, social media marketing, email marketing, and mobile marketing.
Powerful Branding Tactics
Christmas jumpers, notepads, umbrellas, and other marketing items show the Golden Arches having more fun with their imagery. Leading up to the holidays, McDonald’s offers their customers a permanent place online called the Golden Arches Unlimited to shop for its branded goods.
As can be also described as a loyalty program effort, the chain has created a branding approach offering a bold emotional connection with customers and encouraging them to keep coming back – even on special days like birthdays.
In fits and starts since the 1980s, McDonald’s has historically offered merchandise in partnership with fashion brands. As loyal customers may remember, in 2017, the fast-food chain unveiled a limited-time-only line of products via the McDelivery Collection.
What’s more, Colin Mitchell, Senior VP of the brand’s Global Marketing commented in a statement:
McDonald’s has been ingrained in the fabric of culture for years, and there’s a long history of fans wearing our brand with pride. We’re excited to help customers wear their brand love on their sleeves with the unveiling of Golden Arches Unlimited as we continue to inspire feel-good moments with McDonald’s.
Collaboration With Tech Corps
McDonald’s collaboration with the startup, Dynamic Yield Ltd., marks a big step forward in the fast-food giant’s efforts to boost sales while staying competitive in the digital age. This $300 million acquisition is the largest McDonald’s has made in two decades, demonstrating the company’s dedication to investing in high-tech.
As may be known, Dynamic Yield is a boss in decision intelligence technology, using AI to support businesses in making smarter decisions about what to show to customers, when, and where. McDonald’s has been using that technology to personalize its digital menus, streamline drive-thru orders, and enhance digital marketing campaigns.
And, of course, this partnership benefits both parties: McDonald’s improves the CX and increases sales, while the well-known startup gains access to the restaurant’s vast customer base globally.
Referring to the CEO, Steve Easterbrook of the fast food chain’s growth plan and considering technology as the ‘critical element’, McDonald’s is planning to spend $300 million on Dynamic Yield Ltd.
Creative Comebacks from Pop Culture
Let’s accept that we remember times when we see McDonald’s and its signature menus everywhere; in series, films, magazines, and even sports events. The brand, which has a long history of using mass culture references, has focused its digital marketing efforts on creating creative comebacks from pop culture. And, yes, this strategy has been very successful for the company, especially in generating buzz online.
In 2023, the food chain started a “Wednesday” dance challenge on TikTok. The ad featured a group of McDonald’s employees doing the dance challenge, which refers to the popular Netflix series. The ad was a fun and engaging way to connect with the target audience while raising brand awareness one more time.
The company also uses pop culture references to promote its latest menu items. When launching its new “Create Your Taste” menu in 2023, the company released an ad featuring customers creating their meals. The ad referenced the popular TV show “Chopped” and used the catchphrase “It’s all up to you.”
After that, a great number of people run into the restaurant to make their unique menus – like “making the biggest burger possible” – and have shared their experience with create your taste kiosks. Isn’t it the user-generated content victory? Yeap!
McDonald’s Social Media Strategy
Even though the social media marketing strategy of McDonald’s is a part of the overall digital strategy, we think that the brand’s social media approach deserves a new & detailed section. So much so that, the brand’s approach to social media serves as an indicator that food marketing agencies in the UK play a key role in the process.
Let’s be more specific:
The fast food giant has a bold online presence on all major social media platforms, and the management is consistently top-notch. And, the real question remains: how does its marketing team create a splash while striving to outdo the competitors’ efforts, like Burger King’s marketing strategies?
Using Unique Artistry
The fact: McDonald’s uses unique artistry in each aspect of its digital marketing – creative visuals, storytelling, humor, and interactivity to connect with its target group on a deeper level.
As a great example of that approach, 4 years ago the brand teamed up with TBWA/Paris and allowed its iconic French fries to show the way.
These digital ads are inspired by minimalism, the emblematic artistic movement of the 21st century. According to the directions, 8 pop-colored posters are proposed to make 64 different combinations. The campaign was art directed by Emile Chiumino and Camille Roulant. With that campaign, while most brands put their regular logo and an arrow as a direction for their customers, McDonald’s has taken a more novel approach.
TBWA/Paris X McDonald’s collaboration continues with similar works:
Teaming up with Celebs
Yes, teaming up with celebrities is a common and effective way for any kind of brand to reach a wider audience and build excitement for their products or services; but, McDonald’s makes it in a better way.
In 2021, McDonald’s partnered with Cardi B to create a custom meal called the Cardi B & Offset Meal. Since that date, the well-known couple has promoted the menu on various channels.
For instance, the following TikTok video hit 24M views and over 3M likes.
In the same manner, the company partnered with famous R&B singer Swatee to create a custom meal called the Swatee Meal. In addition to promoting the special menu items, Swatee also takes McDonald’s social media accounts for the video series Swatee Meal Class:
Taking Advantage of Storytelling & Humor
No need to say but… McDonald’s always uses humor and storytelling in its restaurant marketing campaigns.
From meme marketing to happy TikTok videos; from video series about a group of friends who love to eat at the restaurant to online competitions, the brand constantly shares funny and relatable content to create a positive association among followers.
As an example of that approach, recently, the company started a competition called “Wrap Battle” in TikTok, showing the entertaining moments of employees:
Similarly, back in 2022, the marketing team launched a digital marketing campaign called “The McD Challenge.” The campaign challenged customers to create & share their unique meals on social media.
The campaign was a success, generating over 100 million views and over 1 million pieces of content.
So, it’s obvious that the constant creativity of this famous brand is a major reason why they’re still killing it in the digital marketing game. The way McDonald’s is always looking to better their customer experience, while also adapting to the ever-changing world of fast food, is something worth admiring.
Even when up against tough rivals like Burger King, McDonald’s has shown it can hold its own, whether by buying tech companies like Dynamic Yield or nailing social media engagement.
McDonald’s shows us how acting local while thinking global, along with a readiness to hop on the latest tech trends, can really cement your place as a trailblazer in the fast-paced world of fast-food marketing. McDonald’s nails it as a shining beacon for companies looking to not just make it, but kill it in the digital era and beyond, highlighting how crucial it is to adapt, keep customers at heart, and stay one step ahead of market trends.