Worrying times for DDB and Leo Burnett as McDonald’s rings the changes

The mighty McDonald’s, which seemed to have ridden out the recession as rivals Burger King and Pizza Hut struggled, has a nasty case of indigestion, posting its first monthly sales decline in nine years.

First one to fall on her sword is the US business head Jan Fields, a 35-year company veteran, who is being replaced by global ‘chief restaurant officer’ Jeff Stratton (It’s clearly only a matter of time before someone has a chief office officer).

And usually in these cases one or more of the struggling company’s agencies takes a hit too.

In McDonald’s case this probably means one of either DDB or Leo Burnett which share most of the company’s $1bn US budget and the even bigger bucks spent around the world.

McDonald’s’ advertising is mostly good and some of it is excellent, so it would seem unfair to blame the agencies and the people instructing them for the sales problems. More likely it’s the tired old flagship Big Mac that’s to blame, a product that seems less and less like it’s made of meat. But there doesn’t seem much chance of McD changing that: executives would wake up in a cold sweat recalling the disaster that was ‘New Coke.’

for the last decade or so McD’s advertising has been labouring under the burden of global tagline ‘I’m Lovin’ It,’ devised by DDB’s Heye & Partner (yes, there’s only one apparently) in Germany. Much of its advertising in the UK (by Burnett) has seemed like an attempt to evade this lumpy impediment.

But the advertising has been more about selling occasions to eat McDonald’s rather than what the stuff tastes like (for obvious reasons perhaps).

When companies start to struggle there’s usually a call to ‘go back to basics,’ the hard sell or at least harder selling.

No doubt there will be plenty of agencies dusting off their old McDonald’s contacts to make this very point, whether they actually believe it or not.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.