Behind McDonald’s Latest Music Collabs Sparking Local Cultural Conversations

Headshot of Heide Palermo

With an impressive brand-building background at PepsiCo and Kimberly-Clark, Lizette Williams found her niche in driving growth with diverse consumers. But professional experience aside, Lizette says growing up in The Bronx, New York is what led her interest in all things culture and music. See how she’s putting that passion to good use, leading McDonald’s first African-American campaign in 16 years and new musical collaborations.

Why did you choose to join McDonald’s?

What sparked my interest in McDonald’s was it being one of a few companies that I believed had the ability to drive cultural conversations. I view McDonald’s as one of the most democratic brands in the U.S., literally accessible to any and all socioeconomic groups, races, religions and neighborhoods. Its deep roots in American culture and communities and the ability to shape and impact culture really excited me as a marketer.

McDonald’s recently launched its first African-American campaign in 16 years. Why now?

While this is the biggest launch we’ve had in 16 years, our relationship with the African-American consumer is not new. With more than 300 African-American franchisees whose restaurants represent approximately $2.7B in sales, McDonald’s has served as a community pillar for decades – from providing resources like tuition reimbursement and other education benefits, to the many employees in the more than 1,500 McDonald’s restaurants in African-American communities. Black and Positively Golden is a refresh…we realize the demographic has evolved, and because of that, so are we.

What drove the decision for both a national and local focus for the campaign?

We conducted extensive consumer research to really understand what’s driving our consumers, what they care about and how we, as a brand, continue to build an authentic and relevant relationship with them. African-American consumers connect with brands that drive relevancy for them as a community and who support causes that directly impact the empowerment and elevation of the culture.

What are you currently working on that’s new and exciting?

We are very excited about the new McDonald’s “Beat of My City” music initiative that launched last weekend. [It’s] a multi-faceted initiative that merges our deeply-rooted commitment to the neighborhoods we serve with our long-standing connection to music and pop culture. The experience is taking top artists to their hometown to give back and celebrate community through exclusive musical performances, impactful service, and McDonald’s feel-good moments – with a goal of driving cultural relevancy and increased brand affinity with our consumer.

We’ve partnered with Teyana Taylor and Juice WRLD for the inaugural tour, both of whom are committed to community and culture.

Beyond artist partnerships, how else are you amplifying the initiative? 

We partnered with Genius and Spotify, which were integral to elevating our position in the music space. Partnering with Spotify allows us to tell the Beat of My City story through audio and tap into Spotify’s streaming intelligence. We not only are able to cater our message to speak specifically to each city and artist, but we can layer on national audio to drive further scale and excitement.

What does it mean to you to impact culture as a marketer today?

“We have the ability to bring people together, diminish divisiveness, and celebrate inclusion.”

We have a tremendous responsibility not only to our brands but also to our consumers. Every year, this industry doles out billions of dollars to reach U.S. consumers, and these messages become deeply engrained in people’s minds… We have the ability to bring people together, diminish divisiveness, and celebrate inclusion. And by amplifying those messages, we are in the driver’s seat to influence a culture that is truly about inclusiveness and connectedness.

@heidefaith heide.palermo@adweek.com Heide is the senior director of brand community at Adweek and Editor of the Inside the Brand series, including the CMO Moves and Gen ZEOs podcasts, Innovators, Challengers, and Women Trailblazers. She also leads Adweek's Innovators Council.
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