McDonald’s moves forward with purpose

Last month, McDonald’s Canada marked its 55th anniversary in Canada by announcing what CMO and vice-president of marketing Alyssa Buetikofer described as a “major shift” in its business towards being more actively purpose-led. 

The July 19 announcement was among a (Mc)flurry of releases announcing various actions furthering the fast-food giant’s social good agenda—from enlisting artists to create tray liner art from up-cycled plastic straws to mark its transition to paper straws in late 2021; to an announcement of its investment in tangible change “with the planet in mind” that ladders up to a company-wide commitment to source 100% of its packaging from renewable, recycled or certified source by the end of 2025, and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; to the introduction of the first EV vehicle in its delivery fleet.

“We want Canadians to know we remain absolutely committed to living our purpose, every single day, so they can feel good about enjoying the McDonald’s they love for years to come,” said president and CEO Michèle Boudria in a release announcing the shift.

Those efforts are being communicated through a new platform developed in partnership with McDonald’s longtime agency partners Cossette, Weber Shandwick and OMD Canada called “Love What’s Next.” It’s running on TV, online video, digital, Spotify, e-mail, and social, as well as a dedicated purpose and impact tab on the McDonald’s Canada website.

In the short introduction on that microsite, McDonald’s explains how it sees its purpose as being a connection point for the communities it serves—in fact, it uses the word “community” five times in the 188-word introduction. As the interests and concerns of the community change, McDonald’s has to change along with it, meaning a greater interest in the environment and local sourcing of high-quality food, for example.

“Love What’s Next’s” 60-second launch ad opens on a McDonald’s restaurant circa its 1967 debut, complete with era-appropriate signage and uniforms, etc. and proceeds to show the sense of community it has fostered by being one of the country’s largest youth employers; supporting Canadian farmers through its purchase of eggs (600 million in the past five years alone), potatoes and beef; raising millions of dollars in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities and pledging to adopt fully sustainable packaging by the end of 2025.

“It’s all about making changes to move forward, so you and everyone who comes through our doors, can ‘Love What’s Next,'” says the closing voiceover.

The ad is about conveying the brand’s “heritage and our optimism for the future, as we continue to make commitments across our brand purpose pillars,” said Buetikofer. “It is intended to demonstrate the impact we have had within Canadian communities and our ambitions for the future.”

The intent of the campaign, she said, is to get Canadians excited about the “positive changes” coming from the company as they pertain to everything from social good to the environment. “We needed an idea that would marry impact with ambition,” she said. “An idea that would show how we’ve impacted communities with our pledge to do more.”

Of course, the Golden Arches’ decision to double down on purpose makes it something of a latecomer to the “purpose” game, which has been a popular topic for marketing thought leaders in recent years. However, the value of pursuing a purpose strategy, and even what exactly constitutes purpose, seems to be open to interpretation.

Ken Wong, professor of marketing at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, said that it has two distinct roles: As a point of focus/direction (ie: the company’s raison être), and as a hygiene factor—the basic values or behaviours and actions consumers expect of any business they associate with. In a recent global survey of 30,000 consumers, Accenture Strategy found that 62% want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.

According to Deloitte, purpose-led brands garner higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than competitors, while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction. In other words, doing good for society helps them do good.

“Brands with purpose are very efficient as ‘billboards’ which signal that the consumer using the brand is ‘concerned and doing something,'” said Wong. “This is especially important to millennials and Gen Z, who probably will constitute the biggest spending age groups for the next decade.

Hygiene factors, says Wong, are things a company “cannot be found to be violating or even suspected of violating,” but don’t provide a platform or source of consumer motivation to buy. “McDonalds sees purpose as a hygiene factor,” he says. “Short of redesigning their packaging, drive thru arrangements [cars idling] and some ingredients, one would be hard pressed to see McDonalds as ‘eco-friendly’ focused.”

But it’s clear many more people are worried about the environment, with a 2021 report from EY finding that 69% of Canadians expect companies to solve sustainability issues. And because it has become a priority in the communities it serves, McDonald’s is making it a priority too.

“We’ve always felt our role in Canada is more than just serving burgers. We are a part of thousands of communities in Canada, serving more than just great food to over a million guests a day,” said Buetikofer. “We have the ability and responsibility to use our scale and scope to tackle both small and big challenges facing our communities locally and globally. So, to us, living our purpose means making sure we are supporting our communities in everything we do as a business.”

Buetikofer said that McDonald’s size and scale, as well as its reputation as one of the OGs in the US$308 billion global fast food industry, means it has the credibility and the wherewithal to back up its claims. “We have continued to evolve and change with our guests over time to maintain our relevance and profile throughout our 55 years in Canada,” she said.

“Today we’re evolving to meet the moment with an eye on the future, and we feel an enormous responsibility to take actions in key areas,” she said. “This is also complemented by communications focused on the now and our future, with messaging specific to our Canadian food quality and sourcing and planet initiatives.”

But Buetikofer stressed that the latest effort constitutes more than simply a marketing campaign. “By letting Canadians know our goals and the steps we are taking to achieve them, we are inviting them to hold us accountable to our choices and actions,” she said.

“This is a long-term promise that reflects a major shift in our business towards being more actively purpose-led,” she added.

Chris Powell