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Is This Any Way to Sell Hamburgers?

Brant Wansley

As a former McDonald’s executive, I’ve followed the company through its ups and downs over the years.  So, I was particularly struck by its newest ad campaign.

Instead of pitching the company’s products during a downturn in sales, the new advertising focuses on community involvement.  It demonstrates how McDonald’s franchises have used their roadside signs to support local and national events, both happy and tragic over the past 20 years—from 9/11 to the marathon bombing in Boston to the 30th wedding anniversary of a couple who've celebrated every year of marriage at a McDonald's.

Check out this TV spot that appeared on the Golden Globes:

Now, I must say audience reaction has been mixed.  There will always be those folks who love McDonald’s, those that hate McDonald’s.  And, the campaign does not address some of the chain’s most apparent issues like a bloated menu and questionable nutritional value.  But, significantly, the campaign has sparked a social media storm.  And, people are talking about McDonald’s again.  Whether this portrayal of community kindness will win over new customers remains to be seen.  But, the campaign itself may be a harbinger of things to come.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review charted the relationship between corporate performance and social and environmental responsibility.  Although clearly a long term strategy, this shared value approach has been embraced by several trendsetting companies — who are thriving because of it. 

At Adidas, CEO Herbert Hainer directed a massive push to slash the company’s carbon footprint with the increased use of recycled polyester and sustainably farmed cotton.  Alexander Cutler at Eaton, the power management company, took the lead in developing hybrid electric power control systems that conserve resources.  These brands speak to us in global terms — with respect and concern for all.  And, they win our allegiance by doing so. 

To borrow a phrase from a recent campaign our company created for UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, “Corporate profitability is sharing the stage with a broader purpose—like creating jobs, building communities and serving the underserved…Because like you, a company does not live by profit alone, it has to live with itself.”

If this new equation speaks to you, perhaps we should talk.  No matter how large or small your brand might be, we can help you uncover the emotional driver that will move your market, that will resonate with your customers and prospects. Companies that build their brands on enduring values and a higher purpose are building brands that stick in the hearts and minds of their customers. 

And that’s the best kind of branding of all.