McDonald’s Taps Wieden + Kennedy New York as Its New Lead Creative Agency in the U.S.

Move is an additional blow to Omnicom and We Are Unlimited

Two different hands hold a McDonald's bag.
McDonald's appoints Wieden + Kennedy New York as new creative AOR in the U.S.
McDonald's

On Friday, McDonald’s announced Wieden + Kennedy New York as its new lead creative agency in the U.S. The news is a setback for DDB, which was the QSR giant’s sole creative marketing partner after beating out Publicis for the business about three years ago.

“We are confident the talented team at Wieden + Kennedy New York will drive the creative excellence that will influence culture and develop relationships with our customers in new ways,” said McDonald’s U.S. CMO Morgan Flatley. “We would like to thank We Are Unlimited for their work over the last three years supporting key moments in our transformation and operational excellence.”

It’s a significant blow to We Are Unlimited, the McDonald’s-dedicated shop that lost exclusive partner status in January, though a press release indicated the agency will continue its relationship with the brand in support of unspecified operational projects.

“We remain a proud partner with McDonald’s and are working closely across both the McDonald’s and We Are Unlimited teams to ensure we remain focused on our shared goals and priorities,” according to a statement from We Are Unlimited.

Founded in 2016, We Are Unlimited recently went through a round of layoffs attributed to changes to the account earlier this month.

“We’re incredibly excited and honored to be part of the McDonald’s team at this critical juncture in their business transformation,” said Neal Arthur, managing director of Wieden + Kennedy New York. “McDonald’s has created some of the most iconic branding, advertising and marketing initiatives the world has ever known, and we look forward to working across the company and agency network to continue this rich tradition.”

It’s another big win for Wieden + Kennedy, especially its New York office, which has continued to gain momentum beyond its high-profile work for Bud Light and new campaigns for Converse.

The agency’s New York team also gained a tailwind with Ford, leading a campaign for the automaker in fall 2018. Although BBDO was named global lead creative agency late last year, Ford designated W+K New York as its innovation partner, tasked with handling specific projects and campaigns. Earlier this month, the agency introduced a new effort for the automotive client promoting the 2020 Ford Explorer.

Colin Mitchell, McDonald’s senior vice president of global marketing, noted that the move “allows us to push our vision for modern marketing in this very important market.”

A great deal of conversation in the quick service category has been gained by Burger King through its aggressive, culture-based campaigns. And Wieden + Kennedy has transformed the fortunes of KFC, since the brand left FCB in 2015, through its own compelling, fun and quirky campaigns.

The KFC work has come from Wieden + Kennedy’s Portland headquarters, and the agency says it does not pose a conflict of interest with McDonald’s, which will be run exclusively from the agency’s New York office.

Former We Are Unlimited executive creative director of technology Alexander Rea, who was at the agency for over a year, said working within the owner-operator structure of McDonald’s could present some challenges.

“Wieden + Kennedy is obviously an outstanding agency,” Rea said. “But does McDonald’s know what to do with an agency like that?”

Rea, co-founder of AUX, a New York-based creative and production consultancy, noted that with franchisees effectively controlling in-store messaging and marketing, it was difficult to create work like that of the brand’s QSR rivals.

“There were a lot of good ideas that didn’t make it to the execution phase,” he commented.

That said, McDonald’s has been on an upswing of late as successful promotions, store upgrades and a greater focus on technology (including self-serve ordering kiosks) has led to, according to CNBC, an increase in same-store sales of over 5%, beating analyst projections.

According to Kantar Media, McDonald’s spent a little over $765 million on measured marketing in the U.S. last year, an increase from about $702 million in 2017. In the first half of 2019, however, the fast-food chain decreased its spending to about $302 million, down from about $420 million over the same period in 2018.

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