It isn't a joke, though it's certainly ironic: McDonald's is going upscale. At least, that's the intention. Reports that the mega fast food brand plans to spend upwards of a billion dollars to "revamp its image and attract new customers" were rampant last week. Flat-screen TVs, a softer color scheme, Wi-Fi, and fireplaces are all rumored to be on the list of upgrades.
A major challenge lies ahead. Transforming its stores? That's easy. The real obstacle for McDonald's will be convincing consumers to shift their long-standing perception of the brand. This is where marketing comes in, and in particular, ad placement.
So much of how consumers interpret a brand is based on where they see its ads. The product, the vertical, the ad creative – these things have no bearing on success unless they're paired with a relevant media plan. And finding a site partner that can offer a brand's target audience isn't enough. The trick is to track down an ally that embodies the image you covet.
It's an issue of proximity: find a site that exhibits your intended image, and stick close.
Whether a brand is looking to change that image or create one for a new product, it must vet every potential site partner to ensure that they're consistent with what it hopes to present.
Consider Axe, a line of men's personal grooming products owned by Unilever, and its current digital campaign. To promote new Axe Excite, the brand is advertising on multiple video sites that include CollegeHumor.com and Break.com. Certainly these properties provide access to Axe's target market of young men, but that isn't the only impetus for selecting them.
Axe Excite has an edgy tagline – "Even Angels Will Fall" – and the brand boasts a history of using suggestive marketing and ad copy: "The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get," and "Click to get your dirty mind blown" are only the beginning. CollegeHumor and Break.com too have a reputation for featuring videos that most would consider controversial. Their image mirrors that of the Axe brand and they can deliver users who appreciate it. In this case, an audience that's pre-disposed to accept controversy – one might argue it even revels in it – smells mighty sweet.
The same can be said of the current Athenos campaign on VanityFair.com. Kraft's brand of Greek foods has a new spokesperson: Yiayia (Greek for grandmother), whose role appears to be to emphasize the authenticity of Athenos products. Linking to YouTube videos in which Yiayia espouses the product while condemning all things modern (the web, revealing clothing, stay-at-home dads), a Vanity Fair home page takeover invites the user to sweep away the page because, according to Yiayia, "Internet is dirt."
Why Vanity Fair? Apart from attracting an audience that's likely to be interested in healthy, low-fat foods, the property offers a smart mix of current cultural issues. The new Athenos campaign is comparably culturally-relevant in the scenarios that it presents, and irreverent in its execution.
There's a certain amount of controversy in this campaign as well, and that's something Vanity Fair visitors can handle. They aren't old fashioned in their beliefs – in fact, they're quite the opposite, different from the traditional Yiayia in every way. This polarization between audience and brand character brings the audience closer to the marketing message ("Athenos: Maybe the only thing approved by Yiayia"), and thus the heart of the brand. That's what makes the campaign and the site a perfect match.
McDonald's will have its work cut out for it when the brand seeks out upscale and trendy site partners that reflect its new look. Buyers must always be selective, but the stakes are far higher when a new image or product lies in the balance. It will be interesting to see how the plan plays out.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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