Jan 14, 2009

Mktg - McDonald takes 'natural' approach with latest packaging

The ‘McMakeover’ project continues apace as McDonald’s recently unveiled a global packaging design for its food range. It will make its debut in the
UK before being rolled out in the 118 countries across which the fast-food retailer has a presence.

The multi-coloured packaging, which replaces the chain’s old red-and-white boxes, places a particular emphasis on the food contained within, and relays quirky descriptions of their contents. It is a tone that has been successfully adopted by natural, entrepreneur-driven premium food brands such as Innocent, and baby food company Plum. ‘Dive into your Fillet-O-Fish’ is one example, while the Big Mac box asks the question ‘What makes your Big Mac so unique?’ and muses that it could be down to its ingredients or the height of the burger.

The redesign, by agency Boxer, a subsidiary of McDonald’s long-term sales promotion agency The Marketing Store, pushes the 100% beef message hard, as well as the simplicity of its ingredients . This is a sensible given that the fast-food chain has often been accused of making its burgers from rather more unsavoury ingredients — if the questions on its ‘truth’ website, makeupyourownmind.co.uk, are anything to go by.

Jill McDonald, senior VP & CMO, UK and Northern Europe, says the packaging revamp is "part of our journey", following its store refurbishment programme, and is designed to build the concept of trust. The UK marketing team, which has pushed the ‘trust’ activity globally, has been heavily involved in the revamped look.

According to McDonald, the £5m summer TV campaign for Happy Meals, created by Leo Burnett , which promoted the provenance of the ingredients , was one of the company’s most successful ads in terms of tracking, and shows that this message from McDonald’s can resonate with consumers.

Paul Castledine, president of Boxer, says the packaging redesign is about “engaging in an honest conversation with consumers about the quality of McDonald’s food” . Nonetheless, Interbrand chief executive Rune Gustafson detects another force at play. “By driving the food and ingredients, it widens the perception of McDonald’s customer base and moves it away from being focused on children,” he says. As this is where the chain has come in for the fiercest criticism, Gustafson believes it could now deflect these attacks. Andrew Lawrence, design director at Elmwood, adds:

"For me, the earthier colour ways work well and it’s good to see language being used more on-pack."

The redesign does have its detractors, however. One senior branding source points out that the look is very similar to brands such as cereal brand Jordans, and that the current design with its happy, healthy people worked because it gave consumers permission to eat the unhealthy products. The source adds that research has shown that a natural, pared-down packaging style is often viewed as cheap by low-income groups, while the added information provides those who want to knock McDonald’s with potential ammunition. "As soon as you claim McDonald’s is high on integrity, people will start asking questions," warns the source.

McDonald’s resurgence over the past two years provides an interesting case study, and the financial and sales figures show its UK operation is still on the up, despite — or maybe because of — the current economic climate. But with so many observers scrutinising its every move, the fast-food chain cannot afford to let down its guard as it continues its ascendancy.

Marketing © Brand Republic

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