The Futurist: Small budget. Big impact

 Budgets are something that every marketer struggles with. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working for a large multinational corporation or a small café that’s just starting up. It’s easy to play the blame game, pointing towards having “not enough money” as the reason for a sub-par campaign.

I’ve often heard the excuse “If only I had more money…” to justify why a marketing campaign failed. These excuses made me reflect on the failures of my own career. We often look externally and try to find excuses when a campaign doesn’t deliver. However, more often than not, an unsuccessful campaign isn’t the result of insufficient budget, but rather, because the campaign idea itself didn’t resonate with consumers.

Looking back at campaigns and activations I’ve rolled out, I realised the most successful ones were actually those that we spent the least marketing funds on. What an epiphany! How did we achieve so much, with so little?

In 2016, we were tasked to promote the classic McChicken. With a miniscule budget, we had a target of doubling the amount of units sold. What made it even more challenging was the McChicken has been on the menu for more than 25 years. How do you make an age-old product sexy again?

We could hire a renowned director to shoot an epic commercial. We could flood the TV airwaves for four weeks. We could buy YouTube mastheads every single day of the campaign period. All the ideas above could have worked if we had unlimited amounts of money and a blank cheque. Unfortunately, we didn’t. So, sitting down with our agency, we came up with the #3biteschallenge idea.

It was a simple activation that challenged customers to finish the McChicken in just three bites. We engaged local celebrities to participate in the challenge, and because it was so much fun, they passed the challenge on to their other celebrity friends. Soon enough, the whole internet was buzzing with videos of Malaysians taking the #3biteschallenge. We sold 2.5 times more McChickens during the campaign period.

I’ve asked myself countless times as to why such a simple idea turned into a wildfire activation. The answer was easy: Because it resonated with consumers.

First, we decided to use a platform that was newly launched, but customers were hesitant to try: Facebook Live. What’s the scariest part of anything that’s live? The fact that it’s live! You can’t make mistakes. We then married this insight with a challenge that was easy to execute – eating. This truly resonated with customers. No big budget, no fancy media buy, just a simple activation.

Reflecting on this success, I’ve learnt that big budgets and unlimited funds are not a prerequisite to a successful campaign. It’s not the amount of media you buy, and not the amount of ads you have, but instead the idea.

But through my own reflections, I realised that as marketers, we should stop putting the budget as a barrier, and instead start challenging ourselves, our teams and our agencies to create breakthrough ideas, grounded in genuine human insights that truly resonate with our consumers.

The writer is Eugene Lee, marketing director, McDonald's Malaysia. The article first appeared in A+M’s The Futurist print edition.