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'Content marketing is giving up control of the narrative', says McDonald's international CMO Eugene Lee

'Content marketing is giving up control of the narrative', says McDonald's international CMO Eugene Lee

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When it comes to marketing, as humans, we are typically inclined towards taking the safest routes possible. As a result, marketing has taken a very linear approach for the past few years, and we’re still using the same formula today, according to Eugene Lee, international CMO of McDonald's. 

"I think where we’re guilty of playing it safe is that we are sticking to a formula that worked many years ago. And it also doesn’t help that the leaders in senior positions today are also from a previous era," said Lee who was speaking at an opening fireside chat at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content360.

"I think we got it right 20 years ago, and we’ve continued to use that formula. What I think we need to do is to convert and change into creating content that is suitable for the platforms of today," added Lee. 

He added that disruption to the media landscape have accelerated "extremely quickly" over the past five years, yet many of us still haven’t caught up.

Don't miss: What's keeping me up: McDonald's Hong Kong's Tina Chao 

The answer, according to Lee, lies in giving up control of the narrative and trusting the partners they are working with. 

"We will not be able to break out of playing it safe if we’re always trying to control the narrative," said Lee. 

He explained that content marketing can benefit a company in the short and long term and that he has seen content marketing that has gone viral, and spiked sales.

"However, more often than not, this usually only happens when marketers are brave enough to share the pen and trust their partners with creating the best content they can," said Lee adding:

If whatever you're producing doesn't make you a little bit nervous, it's not going to land with the customer, it's not going to create impact, it’s going to be safe.

A key example was when the fast-food giant decided to move into fashion. 

Why would a food brand would move into such a vastly different space? Well, it isn't so much about food moving towards fashion or vice versa but rather, connecting customers with experiences and products that they care about. 

"What we found out is that our McGriddle fans in Singapore are the younger crowd – Gen Z to be specific. They are hugely passionate about the product and usually will be the first ones in line when it comes back, and the first ones to voice their disappointment when it goes away," said Lee.

"So, to celebrate their passion, we wanted to give them a way to show their passion through the clothes they wear, and that was the insight behind this activation," he added, saying that if this were a campaign for millennials however, it would have looked very different.

So, it’s not about what you want or know, it’s about what customers want.

Narrowing it down

Speaking about what customers want, it's also important that as a mass brand, that they don't keep marketing efforts too general.

In the past, for advertising and marketing, it’s always been for the mass audience, explained Lee. "So internally, we kept it very general, and the idea was that we needed to appeal to every single person. We need to choose a character on the screen that represents a bit of everyone," he said.

In doing that, we realised that trying to be everything to everyone meant that we ended up being nothing to no one at all.

That led to a realisation that in order to be successful, McDonald's had to target specific segments of audiences. 

Since then, the fast food giant has targeted gamers, K-pop fans, anime lovers and more in their various campaigns and activations. 

For example, McDonald's realised that for years, anime fans have been making McDonald’s-inspired “WcDonald’s” restaurants a part of anime’s most memorable movies and shows.

To capitalise on that, the fast food chain collaborated with some of the biggest names in anime to bring WcDonald's from fiction to real life.

WcDonald's was built on fan's vision and imagination by unleashing the WcDonald’s universe in its restaurants and beyond, with a special McNuggets sauce, manga-inspired packaging, and episodic shorts.

"So instead of going after them for copyright laws, we decided to celebrate it. And anime fans loved it," he said. 

Pushing boundaries safely

While the brand is trying to cater to smaller communities of people, it is still important that as a global brand, it pushes the boundaries while also staying close to global branding. 

"We do have a lot of guidelines that basically keep our brand safe. But one thing that I learnt about working in McDonald's is that we are a global brand, and we are a global MNC but in all the countries we operate, we are like an SME. We operate on different marketing calendars across the world," said Lee.

He added that each country also has their own favorite products and interests which means that you need a different calendar in every single part of the world. 

The biggest challenge with that is about being culturally sensitive and understanding. 

"You have to go in and truly understand the culture and recognise that every single market is going to be different. I think the most important part about my role is putting the right people in the right places and trusting their decisions. No one is going to know a certain market better than the people working in the market," he said.

Lee added that at the end of the day, marketers need to take baby steps and small risks at the start. "Once you start seeing success, then people will start buying into your crazy ideas," he said. 

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McDonald's to acquire 225 Israel outlets from franchisee  
Did McDonald's MY alienate itself with the BDS lawsuit? 

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