What’s makes McDonald’s advertising so good? 

Here we take a look at the secret ingredients that make McDonald's advertising really stand out from all their competitors.

I’m lovin it. Ah, McDonald’s are clearly on a roll. They grew their YoY revenues by over 10% to over £20 billion worldwide. It’s a money-making juggernaut. But let me remind you it wasn’t always the case. 

Over a decade ago McDonald’s had a lot to answer for. Embroiled in child obesity debates, unhealthy food claims and lawsuits for malpractice. They even became the poster child for consumerism with documentaries like Super Size Me, literally eating at their lunch, breakfast and dinner.  

It’s a success story that was, then almost wasn’t, but by gosh they are back stronger than ever. 

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski acknowledged the power of marketing and branding in helping to transform the behemoth into what it is today.

It’s worth saying that their transformation was not just a comms exercise. They adapted just about every aspect of their business from healthy options to their digital in-store and online experience and even created a delivery machine. Think 4Ps eh?! 

But today, I want to give heed to their communications excellence as it is well deserved. 

1. Understanding their customers in context 

McDonald’s demonstrates that time and time again, they understand how and why their customers choose their brand. 

It’s this intricate understanding of their audience tastes, motivations and behaviours that truly sets them a part. 

Stumbling into Mc’Ds

A great example of this, is their latest campaign in New Zealand where they launched a humorous set of adverts that mimic what people say when they stumble into McDonald’s after a night out. 

There is so much to say about this approach. 

Slapstick and light hearted

Firstly, it takes a rather slapstick and light hearted approach. In fact, research has shown that humour is one of the most powerful ways to create memory structures. So they nailed that bang on. 


Secondly, it plays to the fact that we all at some time have probably be in that situation and can relate. It’s is culturally relevant. 


Thirdly, it is solidifying the occasion in your mind. So next time your reptilian brain is walking home after a night out, it’s likely to associate a midnight snack with McD’s. Ka-ching!

2. Brand cues

McDonald’s has a range of brand cues that it uses to a tee.

From its iconic sonic sound through to its Golden Arches. Not to mention good old Ronald McDonald. 

All these assets have a distinct look and feel and colour palette that we all know and love. 

There is no doubt that there approach is baked in marketing science.

If we look at a study done by Ipsos on the most impactful distinct brand assets, you could mistaken McDonald’s for having written it! They have really understood what makes them unique in the minds of their audience and double down on every brand distinctive asset.

Source: Ipsos: Power of You Study

Playing on nostalgia

A key advantage McDonald’s has is its ability to re-fresh popular food items in different ways. This enables them to re-engage with older audiences with a sense of nostalgia.

Two good examples of this, the first is when they re-vitalised the Happy Meal, the iconic kids meal with a limited edition partnership with Cactus Flea Market. The second is when they re-vitalise the classic McNuggets and Fries during the World Cup across most markets, did exceptionally well.

The combination of bringing back well known and loved menu lines at the right moment, and communicating these in an engaging way can be extremely powerful.

3. Keeping their assets fresh

McDonald’s does not shy away from this playing with their brand cues to provide entertainment, curiosity and impact. 

However, what I find most interesting is how the manipulate their brand assets, typically to reinforce some part of their proposition. 

Take a look at these creatives where they are highlighting their delivery service.

It achieves so many things. Firstly, it unmistakably signals McDonalds does delivery, which has not always the case. Secondly, it showcases the occasion when someone is most likely to order a delivery. Thirdly, it creates standout due to the intrigue of the logo adaptation. 

4. Changes thinking and behaviour 

Their latest campaign, ‘Raise your Arches’ tops the list of how they create magical marketing moments. 

The ad doesn’t display their food or their restaurants, rather it focusses on the category entry point.

This is genius. 

You see, in a world of growing competition and an infinite number of lunchtime food choices, McDonald’s knows they have to capture their audience when they first feel their first lunchtime hunger pangs. 

It’s about being salient in exactly the moment someone is deciding (often as a group) where they should go for lunch. 

Bring in ‘Raise Your Arches’ as a moment you can see happening up and down offices worldwide. It’s like a ‘Bat signal’ at the right moment and mixes humour with an action that is likely to change behaviour. 

The advert features no words, just a fantastic visual of the moment, with a great catchy, recognisable song that aligns to the eyebrow movement. Note, the ad has very distinct McDonalds type colour schemes, which is crucial in building memory structures. 

And what a ‘movement’ they have created. In fact, it caught the imagination of the beauty industry where many can now be seen with the McDonald eyebrow look. 

The campaign will go down in history as a defining moment for the brand and advertising more widely. 

5. Focus on Digital and CRM

A relatively new jewel in the McDonald’s crown is the focus placed on their digital loyalty programme, which has now been rolled out into over 50 markets. It has been used over 40 million times in the US alone. The magic of the focus on digital and CRM, through the app is both the data they receive on their customer’s behaviours and preferences as well as the ability to entice customers to re-purchase.


So there you have it. The power of their marketing, branding and communications is certainly a notch above the rest. What McDonald’s has done fabulously is stick to the science. 

Other brands often try and be innovative, use shock tactics and deviate from the norm in order to stand out. Whilst, they may get accolades from the industry, they often fail to achieve the desired commercial impact. 

McDonald’s on the other hand, knows what works for the brand and the bottom line, and executes on it with precision and prowess. And it leaves them a mark above the rest. 

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