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McDonald's Appeals to Mothers With Web Promotion

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McDonald's Corp. has revitalized a 9-year-old marketing concept called McMoms with an online newsletter that attempts to draw more mothers into the restaurants with coupons, parenting advice, and health and nutritional information.

Bandy Carroll Hellige Advertising in Louisville, Ky., pitched the idea for McMoms.com in response to McDonald's global chief marketing officer Larry Light's February invitation to 10 regional franchise-group agencies to each present promotional concepts targeting mothers.

McMoms.com, which went live earlier this month, offers an e-mail-based, one-page monthly newsletter that contains news on women's health and nutrition. McDonald's coupons and previews of upcoming Happy Meal toys are also available through the newsletter.

The first issue of the newsletter was distributed to 6,000-10,000 mothers in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, according to Susan Bandy, shop partner and president. The recipients were culled from a purchased list.

Women in those six states can also visit the Web site to request the newsletter, but a pop-up screen will advise them that coupons and other promotions are not yet available.

Mothers have been a focus for McDonald's this year as the company works to revamp its image amid slumping sales. The inclusion of health and dietary information in the newsletter is part of an attempt to address concerns that fast-food chains have contributed to the nation's obesity problem, said Andy Barish, senior restaurant analyst with Bank of America, San Francisco.

"McDonald's has been a good corporate citizen over the years," Barish said. "They need to remind people of that."

Last week, McDonald's said it would test apples as an alternative to french fries in its Happy Meals. The chain introduced new premium salads in March and in April linked itself with a California-only "Got milk?" promotion from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, touting milk as an alternative to sodas.

Based on research conducted by McDonald's lead agency, DDB in Chicago, that found that about 75 percent of mothers with children under 9 years old use the Internet as their primary source of information, Bandy Carroll Hellige chose e-mail as a means to reach mothers, Bandy said.

The agency is backing the effort with print ads that will run in regional women's magazines. It also put together a deal with the Fox affiliate in Louisville, which offers a link to McMoms.com through its own Web site.

Depending on the program's success during the next three months, McMoms.com could become a nationwide promotion. "National is watching this closely and has expressed great interest in the idea," said Pam Fisher, McDonald's marketing manager for the Indianapolis region.

The promotion is separate from McDonald's overall branding effort, created at the chain's April meeting with its top global agencies, during which the upcoming marketing theme, "I'm lovin' it," was developed.

"I'm lovin' it" will launch globally this fall as part of a two-year marketing initiative that McDonald's executives hope will revitalize the brand. The idea was developed by Heye & Partners in Unterhaching, Germany, an Omnicom agency affiliated with DDB.

The search for promotional ideas from regional agencies received less attention. It was not known whether McDonald's is testing other ideas introduced during the meetings.

McDonald's launched a quarterly newsletter called McMoms in 1994 as part of a direct marketing program. That effort was not heavily promoted in recent years.