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“Us” Marketing: McDonald’s, Social Media and Nationalism

McDonald’s this week invited Canadians to visit its Facebook page and vote for either the Big Mac or the Quarter Pounder with Cheese as their favorite sandwich. A pair of giant hot-air balloons—one for each sandwich– hovering over Landmark, Manitoba, give real-time  updates on the voting: whichever balloon is floating higher in the sky is the current leading vote-getter. As of this morning, the Big Mac balloon held a slight advantage, according to live, streaming video on the site.

Voting for the promotion, reported in detail by Marketing magazine, runs through July 28. McDonald’s Canada agency Cossette and digital shop Fjord developed the multimedia effort, which is a clever blend of social media, traditional media and one of the very oldest communications media: smoke signals.

But the promotion also is the latest manifestation of McDonald’s exploration of relationship building through social media and of brand building through nationalism. A 90-second video (see it at left) on the Canada-specific Facebook page explains the Big Mac vs. QPC contest and the choice of Landmark, a town at the physical center of Canada. Reinforcing the “us” tone, the voiceover describes tiny Landmark as “the bulls-eye, the sweet spot, the heart of our country. Whatever you call it, this little stretch of land means a lot to our great nation.” The focus here is on Canadian national pride as much as it is on burgers. And that’s not a bad thing.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlWRwqHtNmQBeyond promoting the Big Mac and QPC, the marketing program celebrates Canada, McDonald’s and the bond that connects country, brand and consumers. This strategy certainly isn’t unique to McDonald’s. Banker UBS’s “you and us…UBS” tagline tries to establish a similar though more-limited connection. What McDonald’s is doing is far more ambitious because it is tailoring this “you, us and our country, together” theme to the markets in which it operates. Some recent examples:

• In the United Kingdom, a new TV commercial celebrates that nation’s unpredictable weather as a way to spotlight local agriculture and McDonald’s local-buying commitments.
• In Australia last year, McDonald’s introduction of Angus burgers was accompanied by a TV spot celebrating the nation’s cattle ranchers and the chain’s longtime support of them.
• In Switzerland earlier this year, McDonald’s launched a multilingual campaign for new burgers representing each of the nation’s three regions, with advertising in the three languages spoken there.
• In Italy the chain introduced the McItaly burger in conjunction with the government and Italian suppliers to spotlight product quality and local sourcing.

There are many other examples of localization/nationalism in McDonald’s approach, and the benefits for the chain are many. It positions the Golden Arches as being an integral part of a nation’s personality and culture as well as of its commerce. It localizes a global brand, suggesting McDonald’s understands what it means to be a citizen of [insert nation here] as opposed to being a global behemoth (although only a company that spends more than $1.2 billion annually on advertising just in the U.S. could afford to divert some funds to this brand-building effort). It also puts a familiar, friendly face on the brand and in so doing helps protect it against critics who may not like its food, its marketing, its mascot or whatever. In sum, it is at once an offensive and defensive maneuver worth watching, understanding and even, for its competitors, mimicking.

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