McDonald's Malaysia: “No idea is a bad idea”

“No idea is a bad idea”. An open mind and a willingness to explore are crucial factors to being a marketer in Malaysia, Eugene Lee, marketing director of McDonald's (McD) Malaysia, said.

In an exclusive interview with A+M, Lee said he has always believed that “no idea is a bad idea”, and he constantly encourages his team to take risks when it comes to campaign ideas.

In fact, Lee said this approach has paid off with its recent successes on the McChicken #3biteschallenge, Big Mac Chant-Smule partnership, as well as the Ayam Goreng McD re-launch which for the first time ever, the local fast food chain filmed a commercial absolutely without any voiceover. Check out the said ad below:

To other marketers here, Lee has another tip.

Forget all “romantic” feelings about past successes and always move forward.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I’ve seen far too many examples of successful marketers that have fallen into the trap of repeating the same ideas and executions again year-after-year, causing advertising fatigue, and resulting in disastrous results,” Lee said.

So always maintain an open mind, and do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Feeling uncomfortable is a good thing. It means you are doing something different that challenges both yourself, as well as the status quo, he added.

Localisation, an antidote of success

As a global fast food chain and brand, McD understands that success will only come if it captures the liking of the locals in all markets.

Hence, the re-launch of Ayam Goreng McD also forms part of its efforts on localising a global brand operating in Malaysia, an area which the fast food chain has been putting a lot of effort on. It also introduced a local favourite “cakoi” or “youtiao”, tailoring its breakfast menu and promotions to Malaysian’s needs.

Perhaps one of the reasons why McD is so successful in marketing products in both Malaysia and Singapore is probably because it understands the importance of localising taste buds. Hence, giving each of its markets the freedom and liberty to operate independently. After all, who would know more about the local consumers’ food preference than its staff operating in the respective markets?

“McD has always operated independently in every market, and the local teams are given full liberty to execute marketing plans that are relevant in their own countries. This gives McD the unique advantage of being an international brand, but at the same time remain locally relevant in different countries,” Lee added.

But again, it is probably the culture and spirit of fearlessness and willingness to take risks in their marketing campaigns or even just a re-launch of its original McD Ayam Goreng with an interesting twist, which makes McD well known within the local marketing industry.

In neighboring Singapore, McD also just had another round of marketing success on its Nasi Lemak burger, Chendol flavoured ice-cream and Bandung McFizz, as part of a campaign with NS50 and the Singapore Food Festival 2017. Be it content or native marketing, the campaign created a lot buzz especially on social media and even caught the attention of local and international press.

A paradigm shift in media buys

It is also true that social media and mobile are increasingly becoming a critical platform to Malaysians these days. The country is quickly transforming into a mobile tech-savvy country, with more Malaysians owning smartphones and having access to the internet.

On trends unique to Malaysia, Lee said, just three years ago, traditional media such as television and newspapers were considered the “go-to” media of choice to reach consumers. But today, especially in urban settings, it is almost impossible to reach a young working adult if you are not in the digital sphere.

As such, there has been a major paradigm shift at McD in terms of its media buying patterns. Lee said, "Three years ago, we were spending 80% of our media budgets on traditional platforms, with digital buys often being an afterthought.

Today, McD Malaysia has completely flipped its media strategy around, and focusing 70% of its budgets on digital platforms such as Facebook and Google.

He added that this shift is timely, and is also a major part of McD Malaysia's marketing success in recent years.

In executing various campaigns, Lee and his team work closely with its creative agency Leo Burnett, media agency OMD, and iDotYou as our digital and social media agency.

Is there a perfect agency-client relationship?

In Lee’s mind, the perfect agency-client relationship is like any other relationship that needs a compromise and balance. He said: “As a client, we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zones to explore new and innovative ways to approach marketing. It’s very easy to say NO to agency ideas because they are too 'out there' or make us feel uncomfortable. However, being brave, taking risks and challenging the status quo are crucial to producing stand-out marketing campaigns that customers pay attention to.”

On another note, it is crucial that agencies are not being too “hung up” or attached to a creative idea.

“At the end of the day, the client has sales and business targets to answer for. Asking for the company logo to be '20% bigger' for the sake of visibility and top-of-mind awareness is not a deliberate attempt to ruin their beautifully crafted visuals,” he added.

Therefore, a perfect agency-client relationship occurs when that balance is achieved.

It’s a "perfect" match when clients that are willing to explore and experiment, meet with agency teams that are willing to leave "creative-ego" at the door.

Lee was promoted to his current role in November last year from his prior role at McD Malaysia as senior marketing manager. He joined the company in July 2009 as marketing officer before climbing up the ranks.

As marketing director at McD Malaysia, Lee is in charge of everything that its customers see, be it a point of sale material at the restaurant, a billboard on the highway, or a banner on a website. Lee also works closely with its agency partners to ensure effective communications in reaching out to its customers.

The company works closely as a cross-functional unit, where no department is above the other. Because marketing is always the focal point, Lee said the biggest challenge for him, is managing the different departments that encompasses supply chain, finance, IT, and operations.

Reporting to CMO Melati Abdul Hai who leads marketing, corporate communications, and consumer and business insights, Lee’s team currently consists of seven marketers that manage the campaigns nationwide for McD Malaysia.