Free McDonald’s for Life? That’s Not Boring

Anyone who is serious about brand building pays attention to what McDonald’s is doing. Over the years we’ve seen some really great ideas executed by skilled teams determined to keep on top of a very competitive industry.  When I saw CMO Tariq Hassan comment in a recent CNBC story that he tells his team to be comfortable being boring, I had to laugh.

Google “McDonald’s Free Food for Life” to see how much editorial coverage the brand’s latest campaign has generated. Designed to increase the number of McDonald’s customers using the brand’s app, this campaign offers customers one entry per purchase into a chance to unlock free McDonald’s food for life – for them and for three of their friends. This type of global attention is not boring.

In fact, here are a couple of points McDonald’s is making that I think are well worth paying attention to. 

Focus on a Channel to See It Flourish

It was interesting to see Hassan pointing out the value placed on app-using customers – he called them ‘more meaningful and profitable’ – and also talking about the efforts required to attract and retain those customers. A significant investment in marketing and paid media brings new users on board; after that, it’s all about the channel experience. There’s a similar significant investment at this point as well – app users have access to special online concerts, limited edition merch, and other pretty cool perks.

The key point is this: you have to focus on a channel if you want to see it flourish. Ask any gardener – if they have some area of the yard they want to fill with beautiful flowers and lush vegetables, that’s where they’ll concentrate all of their energy. The soil will get the best nutrition, there will be plenty of water and sunshine, all the weeds will be pulled away – basically, focus – and as a result, the garden will flourish. 

Apps don’t attract customers simply by being there. You have to have a well-defined user acquisition and retention strategy.  Have a compelling reason for customers to download the app and even more compelling reasons for them to keep using it. 

Keep Channel Experience Consistent with Larger Strategic Objectives

Since the pandemic, McDonald’s has simplified its menu. Core classic items – cheeseburgers and fries, let’s say – remain, while trendy, underperforming items like salads and parfaits are gone. Hassan calls this strategic consistency, and it appears customers appreciate having a smaller, more affordable array of options. 

What’s important to understand here is that the McDonald’s app experience is consistent with the rest of the brand narrative – you can get your Chicken Nuggets, you can get your Big Mac – while adding a layer of community and fun. Over the three weeks the “Win McDonald’s Food for Life” campaign runs, people will be discussing what it would be like to win that prize. They contemplate which three friends they’d share the experience with. What would it be like to share french fries with the same people for the next fifty years?  Downloading an app is a small way to take part in the fun and be part of the conversation. Meanwhile, the savings incentives are focused on classic menu items, helping customers strengthen their connection to the brand’s chosen path forward. Smart. 

What Do You Think?

Are you a McDonald’s app user? If you are, has the relationship you have with the brand changed over the time you’ve been using the app? Would you want to win free McDonald’s food for life? Inquiring minds want to know!

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