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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
McDonald's? Or a trendy wine bar?
Magazine's review of advertising

THE PRODUCT: McDonald's Salads Plus

THE BRIEF: Attract people who would never eat a Big Mac and large fries

THE SCRIPT: Amid falling lettuce leaves, new customers Sophie, Charlotte and Joanna are introduced

WHAT'S GOING ON: There doesn't appear to be much subtlety in McDonald's approach to the launch of their salads. Someone somewhere decided that what they needed, if the new menu was going to be a success, was to appeal to Sex and the City types. Or failing that, at least to the Bridget Jones generation.

So here goes. After a rundown of the menu, including Caesar salads, Quorn, yoghurt, "or even a crunchy apple", the voiceover says: "These girls are also new in McDonald's. Impatient Sophie, sensible Charlotte, and... Joanna, who's always late! New food - new people, Salads Plus."

Attractive thirtysomething women, well dressed, one slightly kooky, sitting round chatting - Sarah Jessica Parker would certainly fit right in. In the closing shot of the advert, the women's eyes clearly following a passing male bottom.

McDonald's ad
Impatient, Sensible and Late
It's pretty clear what the company is trying to do - but how can a company successfully reinvent itself for people who are more accustomed to trendy wine bars?

There's a clue to the strategy in the line "New food - new people". Does it, by any chance, remind you of a slogan used by a political party? A slogan which, by acknowledging a process of change, convinced people that a party had shed its old ways and was a new, modern, organisation?

In this analogy, burger-and-fries McDonald's represents beer-and-sandwiches Old Labour.

And, like the pre-Blair party, Old McDonald's was having a tough time. The company had recorded the first loss in its history, and was running up against a mania for dieting and fears of widespread obesity.

So salads were introduced, designed to be "contemporary and relevant", ideal for appealing to "ladies who lunch", and to mums taking their children for a Happy Meal.

And the tactic seems to be working. Last month the company reported a 56% increase in first quarter profits - in spite of newspaper reports that a crispy chicken Caesar salad has more calories( when served with dressing and croutons) than a Big Mac.


Ad man Dan Clays, who has had experience of planning campaigns for food-related companies, says: "In the past six months to a year, the whole obesity debate has become enormous, and as a result, many brands are looking at ways of getting around it, positioning themselves to be able to offer something different."

McDonald's ad
Eyes down
But trying to get 16- to 34-year-old women into McDonald's is no easy task. Persuading "ladettes" that they can buy salads could, however, give women who would not want a burger the excuse to go along to McDonald's with a group of people who did.

The brand is big enough, he says, for its core market not to be alienated by talk of salads when what it wants is a burger. But at the same time he doubts McDonald's would want to run the advert in the middle of an England Euro 2004 game.

Sure enough, the company is now focusing its efforts on putting these adverts in women's magazines, on websites and on the radio.

Not that the printed adverts are any more subtle. One in a women's health magazine reads: "Aromatherapist Anna is typical of the new breed of customer attracted to McDonald's... Anna hates football, but love Thierry Henry. She hates alcohol but loves bars... She hates her job but loves her boss" etc.

Just to avoid any doubt, small print at the bottom of the page reads: "Anna is intended to illustrate a possible customer-type and is not a real person."

You can see why they don't want to take any risks - the company was, after all, sued for millions of dollars because its cups didn't warn customers that the coffee inside was hot.

  • Incidentally, McDonald's policy of having one advertising strategy around the world - "I'm lovin' it" translated into many languages - seems to have been a success. The company says in its top 10 countries, 89% of young adults were aware of the campaign.

    Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson

    Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

    I am astonished that this ad should have had a positive affect on sales. Who on earth is going to say - "Hmm, new customers eh? Looks like my kind of place. Maybe McDonalds isn't so bad after all"? Or "So Charlotte is sensible? And she is in McDonalds? Well, I am quite sensible, I'll pop in at lunchtime."
    Chris Wild, England

    "30-something ladies who lunch" is a myth, propagated by Sex and the City. When we're lucky enough to get together, which is certainly not weekly, my friends and I would go to a much nicer place than McDonalds. Women want to take time to catch up when they meet, not have salad out of a plastic box in a fast food 'restaurant'.
    Claire (31), London, UK

    I grew up eating Big Mac and fries and now that I'm older I don't always want to eat junk food. But if you're out with friends who have children it's easier to keep them happy and it's nice that adults can choose a healthy alternative. Having tried McDonald's salads on a few occasions now I can honestly say they are superb both in taste and value. Last week when out for an 'adult' meal in a well know chain of high street restaurants I ordered the Caesar salad and have to quite honestly it wasn't as nice as McDonald's (or as cheap!).
    Anon, UK

    I can't comment on how appealing "I'm loving it' is for me, as I am part of Maccy D's core audience. A Young male who likes burgers and moreso likes the speed of the fast food industry. However, I did have one of their salads and found it to be bearable, maybe better than I expected. However the plastic knife and fork will put the new ladettes off. These new lines of products will have to be around for another 10 years to be effective. Short term gains mean nothing. I look forward to the day the adverts stop anyway.
    Adam, UK

    If they start serving a nice glass of Chardonnay then they might attract the wine bar crowd. It's not such a crazy idea - in Portugal I had beer in McDonald's.

    I was utterly cynical about the new campaign until the weekend. A McDonald's van in town, people handing out free samples of their new "fruit and frozen yoghurt" product. It was a very hot day, the product was frozen so I gave it a try expecting it to be cold but tasteless. It was actually tasty. Normally I only ever eat McDonald's when I'm very drunk but the new products could change that.
    John B, UK

    I find that these adverts are particularly patronising and annoying, rather than attracting me to go to McDonald's they instead put me off as I do not want to be stereotyped into a mass society which is now dependently represented by tv shows and so called 'typical customers' who lack an kind of individuality whatsoever.
    Abi Lovegrove, England

    There may be more demand for salads, but as a thirty something woman, I find those adverts really patronising. McDonald's is a cheap burger bar. It isn't offering anything different to trendier bars who serve lunches - except they aren't packed with teenagers and toddlers waving 'Happy Meal' toys. There's a whole generation of thirty something women out there with images of Ronald McDonald burned into their consciousness, and he certainly isn't in Mr Big's league!
    Caroline, Bedford, UK

    I thought you might have selected this for Ad Breakdown sooner or later and I am pleased you did! It is a blatant cheesy attempt to attract middle-aged women into 'Mackey D's', giving the perception it is the place to be - its just as annoying as "I'm Loving it" - what is that all about!?
    Martin, Swindon UK

    It's good to see McDonald's taking another positive step towards healthier food. For all the negative publicity they get that goes with being an American global conglomerate, at least they are providing a healthier, probably better tasting alternative to the main sort of burger-bar food.
    Karl Chads, UK

    These ads are truly pathetic. Apart from the fact that trendy "sassy" women would rather gnaw off an arm than eat in McDonald's, the phony and patronising "new customers" are about as convincing as a pantomime horse. We don't care about "Impatient Sophie, sensible Charlotte, and Joanna". We don't care if one of them is "always late"
    Daniel Coysh, UK

    For McD's to really profit they should introduce 'meal-deals' to these new products as they are currently over priced and alienate existing customers that would like to try the new products but aren't willing to pay extra for the separate components. "I'm lovin' it" is a great slogan but the ad's are very lame!
    Rob, UK

    I think this is as much about aspiration. The women featured are what the harrassed mum would like to be in many ways. Ladies who lunch - I'm not sure many would be attracted to the litter strewn shed in a car park of my local MacDonalds but maybe it feels different inside.
    Lewis Graham, UK

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    McDonald's enjoys its salad days
    28 Apr 04  |  Business

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