McDonald’s Reviews Its U.S. Agency Model and Assigns New Work to Wieden + Kennedy New York

Indie shop to handle creative brand project

The company previously worked only with Omnicom.
Getty Images

McDonald’s has hired the New York office of independent agency Wieden + Kennedy for an upcoming project, according to several parties with direct knowledge of the matter.

This news comes as the world’s biggest restaurant brand completes a comprehensive review of its U.S. marketing strategy. Sources say the W+K work will concern the McDonald’s brand’s creative positioning in the American market (which is by far its largest). It also ends the chain’s exclusive creative advertising relationship with Omnicom.

"For some time, the McDonald’s U.S. Marketing team has been evaluating an agency model that mirrors the significant transformation in the U.S. market."
Jesse Lewin, McDonald's spokesperson

“With our proud history as one of the most creative marketers in the world, the U.S. marketing team continues to innovate to deliver the creative excellence that our brand deserves,” said Jesse Lewin, spokesperson for the fast food giant. “Our goal is to continuously modernize our approach to marketing to drive customer reappraisal and engagement at the speed and scale of McDonald’s.”

He continued: “For some time, the McDonald’s U.S. Marketing team has been evaluating an agency model that mirrors the significant transformation in the U.S. market. An internal process to identify the model that is best for our business and for our customers is underway and nearing completion.”

McDonald’s declined to elaborate, and a Wieden + Kennedy spokesperson referred to the client for comment.

The assignment also follows two major changes in the organization on a global level.

Earlier this week, spokespeople confirmed that McDonald’s svp and global CMO Silvia Lagnado will depart in October and that the company does not plan to replace her. Recent reports also highlighted the development of a new comprehensive visual identity by which the chain looks to simplify brand elements ranging from logos and posters to interior design at thousands of locations. Publicis Groupe design firm Turner Duckworth created the work.

A holding company team led by DDB beat out Publicis approximately three years ago to become McDonald’s sole creative marketing partner, ending the chain’s three decade-plus relationship with Leo Burnett. But the exclusive contract ended in January, with DDB telling consultants that dedicated network We Are Unlimited, which launched after the 2016 review, would now be “able to pursue new business opportunities.”

Earlier this month, that agency’s chief creative officer Toygar Bazarkaya also left to join independent agency Optimist. Two co-executive creative directors will fill his role.

McDonald’s had previously begun reducing We Are Unlimited’s scope of work and sending assignments to other shops within Omnicom—namely TBWA\Chiat\Day, whose Los Angeles offices won a project promoting the McCafe line in late 2018 and later took over marketing for McDonald’s breakfast products. A source close to the business said McDonald’s strategy is in a near-constant state of flux.

Spokespeople for We Are Unlimited and TBWA\Chiat\Day declined to comment.

While the precise nature of the Wieden + Kennedy assignment is unclear, it comes as McDonald’s rivals in the hyper-competitive fast food space earn plaudits for their creative work. Burger King, which was Cannes Lions’ Marketer of the Year in 2017, won the festival’s top campaign award this year, taking home a Titanium Grand Prix for trolling the Golden Arches with “Whopper Detour” by FCB New York.

W+K also has a well-established relationship with another global restaurant chain, KFC. In recent years, the agency’s Portland office produced a number of ads starring alternate versions of the Colonel played by celebrities like Reba McEntire and George Hamilton.

KFC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Overall revenue for the McDonald’s chain has declined every year since 2013, but sales at franchise locations have increased in turn. The company beat earnings estimates for the first quarter of 2019 despite a consistent drop in foot traffic in a trend that executives attributed to “technology-focused store upgrades,” price-based promotions, and a delivery partnership with Uber Eats.

Kantar Media has the chain spending $765 million on paid media in the U.S. last year, a slight increase over 2017’s total. Spending for the first quarter of 2019, however, was nearly 35% lower than the same period in 2018 at $137 million.

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