May 8th, 2007

McDonald's Unveils Global 'Shrek' Movie Promotion

By Kate Macarthur
Advertising Age

'Milk-and-Apples' Effort to Also Hype Burger Chain's Healthful-Eating Choices

After nearly two years of hype and months of criticism from watchdog groups, McDonald’s Corp. today unveiled details of its promotional deal with Dreamworks Animation’s “Shrek the Third,” calling the global effort its “biggest-ever” for apples and milk and a launching pad for its children’s marketing platform.

The global campaign, which launches May 11 to support the film’s May 18 theatrical release, will appear in 100 countries through October. The multimedia promotion includes talking Shrek-themed Happy Meal toys (in eight languages), collectible glasses and a website where children can earn points for digital rewards by logging in how much physical activity they have done.

‘Wave of the future’

“Online fun leads to offline activity,” said Mary Dillon, global chief marketing officer, McDonald’s, who added: “This is the wave of the future for us.” (She acknowledged that children are on the honor system when it comes to recording their activity, but said children are generally truthful.)

Other elements in the global campaign include Shrek-shaped pasta in Australia, Fiona Salad in Latin America, and carrot sticks, organic milk and fruit bags in the U.K. Global advertising was handled by Leo Burnett Worldwide, with Publicis Groupe sibling Arc Worldwide handling the digital platform executives called the chain’s biggest to date.

“We are committed to taking McDonald’s to the next level,” said Bill Lamar Jr., chief marketing officer, McDonald’s USA. He said the domestic “Go for Green” message highlights the chain’s “Shrekalicious” food and complements the burger chain’s “Be a Player” campaign that was created with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (For those who don’t remember or missed the first two animated movies, Shrek is a giant green ogre.)

Of course, the larger purpose is to sell product—and lots of it—while keeping the food police at bay. Today’s press event was as much about the well-being of the McDonald’s brand as the company said it was about the well-being of children.

Building trust

McDonald’s is looking to build trust at a time when it is pacing the restaurant category with stellar sales even though brand trust scores don’t reflect its growth. During the marketer’s global marketing meeting last month, Chairman-CEO Jim Skinner told delegates the chain can’t sustain its sales growth without that consumer trust and set a plan to make McDonald’s the most trusted brand in the world, according to attendees.

The chain ranks second behind Subway in the 2007 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty engagement Index. Part of that plan is to build trust with moms by promoting well being for children and boosting transparency.

Ms. Dillon defended the company’s “continuous evolution” toward “responsible marketing” despite criticism that Shrek’s government health campaign was weakened because the animated movie’s characters are also promoting a slew of snack, soft-drink and fast-food brands.

“We are a leader taking action to make a difference,” said Ms. Dillon,who added that children eat at the Golden Arches twice a month. “It’s about continuing to grow comp sales worldwide, continuing to measure attitudes and trust on our brand. We are beginning to get our story out.”

‘A great experiment’

Whether such moves have a long-term effect in reducing childhood obesity won’t be evident for decades, but “this is a great experiment and to be too critical of it would ‘disincentivize’ companies to further experiment,” said Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating” and marketing professor at Cornell University. “They’re going to sell fast food anyway and there’s a whole lot bigger likelihood [children] will eat healthy if they go to McDonald’s than if they go to a competitor where this stuff doesn’t exist. It’s not going to hurt and it’s very likely they’ll do really well.”

However, since other products besides the fruit and milk—such as the cups for the 12-ounce McFlurry and other soft drinks—also carry the animated characters, Mr. Wansink concedes that could cancel out any incentive children would have to eat better. “It’s a little less ideal if [Shrek is] on the french fries,” he said. 

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