Burger me! Super-sizing digital at McDonald's

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 7, 2013
Summary:
Burger King upped its online presence when it took to Twitter to promo its Satisfries with a supposed name change. Rival McDonald's meanwhile is upping the digital ante with its first Chief Digital Officer. It's a fight to the finish.

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#WTFF?

I was rather taken by the Twitter outrage in certain quarters last month when Burger King renamed itself Fries King - or rather, didn't really.

For those prepared to engage brain before tweeting - an at times seemingly alarmingly outnumbered group - the fact that Burger King had just introduced  so-called low fat french fries - known as Satisfries - might have rung a few alarm bells.

Fries King was of course just part of a wider social media campaign that had some rather dubious aspects to it.

For example, there was the hashtag  #WTFF which does of course stand for What The French Fry as opposed to what it really stands for "What The F***ing F*ck'.

On the other hand it got people talking about Burger King online with Twitter mentions of Burger King almost tripling on the Wednesday when it announced its "name change"

According to YouGov BrandIndex, a daily brand consumer perception research service, Burger King's Buzz score hit 2013 highs shortly after the Satisfries' debut.

That's pretty important when Burger King's 336,000 followers trails so far behind McDonald's 1.7 million.

Bigger Mac

For its part, McDonald's is not satisfied with its own digital performance and wants a more co-ordinated and comprehensive digital strategy worldwide.

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Atif Rafiq

That's why later this month Atif Rafiq will step up to the market as the firm's first Chief Digital Officer. The former Amazon and Yahoo! exec will report in directly to McDonald's Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook.

Easterbrook is in no doubt about the importance of an effective digital strategy to support the McDonald's brand in a hugely competitive fast food market:

"Consumers visit and interact with our brand in multiple ways, and digital continues to grow increasingly important to them.

"Atif will lead a more coordinated and comprehensive digital strategy for our global organisation as we deepen our connection with our customers.

"His cutting-edge thinking, background and expertise will help us drive even greater innovation in this arena."

Certainly Rafiq's online credentials are impressive. He was recently general manager of Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon, having joined from Yahoo!, where he was general manager of the brand’s Y! Local division. He's also worked at AOL and Goldman Sachs.

Digital to go

While it remains to be seen what specific actions Rafiq will implement, it's clear that mobile tech will play a major part.

McDonald's is currently testing mobile payments in the US., including mobile ordering, with customers able to pick up food in stores or at the drive-thru.

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Mobile Monopoly

In the UK, the burger chain has revived its long running - 8 years to date - Monopoly-themed promotion by offering consumers the chance to win prizes by playing via mobile and tablet devices rather than the previous format of a paper 'peel and play' gaming board.

McDonald's is also supporting the return of Monopoly with an ad campaign incorporating digital channels, with a YouTube homepage takeover and updates on its McDonald's UK Facebook page.

In another development, the firm is trialling new tech offerings in-restaurant, including offering customers the use of iPads.

Changing menu

It's a time of interesting change for McDonald's.

Easterbook himself only recently returned to the firm, while CMO Neil Golden retires early next year.

Assuming he is replaced - rather than the CMO functions being absorbed into other roles such as CBO or CDO - his successor will ultimately determine what direction the digital push takes and how it fits with more conventional marketing efforts.

(For what it's worth, last year, McDonald's spent $960 million in advertising on measured media in the US alone., according to Kantar Media.)

It's an interesting struggle with digital as the latest weapon to score points. In 2012, social marketing benchmarking company Unmetric produced a Fast Food Report which broke down the social media strategies of the top 16 US fast food chains which picked out the McDonald's/Burger King rivalry.

For example, for the period between January and April 2012, Burger King saw 105% fan growth on Facebook while McDonald’s clocked up 118% follower growth on Twitter.

Rafiq has his work cut out for him when he steps into his new role.

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