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McDonald's maintains an extensive advertising campaign. In addition to the usual media such as television, radio and newspaper ads, the company makes significant use of billboards and signage, and sponsors sporting events ranging from Little League to the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games. The company also makes coolers of orange drink with their logo available for local events of all kinds. However, television ads remain the primary form of advertisement.
McDonald's has used 23 different slogans to advertise in the United States, as well as a few other slogans for select countries and regions. At times, it has run into trouble with its campaigns.
There have been many McDonald's advertising campaigns and slogans over the years. The company is one of the most prevalent fast food advertisers, especially in the United States, where it spends the most advertising money of any fast-food restaurant and the fourth-most of any advertiser in the country. McDonald's Canada's corporate website states that the commercial campaigns have always focused on the "overall McDonald's experience", rather than just product. The purpose of the image has always been "portraying warmth and a real slice of everyday life." Its TV ads, showing various people engaging in popular activities, usually reflect the season and time period. Finally, rarely in their advertising history have they used negative or comparison ads pertaining to any of their competitors; the ads have always focused on McDonald's alone, one exception being a 2008 billboard advertising the new McCafe espresso. The billboard read "four bucks is dumb", a shot at competitor Starbucks.
McDonald's began operations in India in 1996. It retained Leo Burnett (India) to provide authentic Indian insights in years of study and planning to meet local conditions with special concern regarding local favorite items, religious-based food taboos and India's strong vegetarian tradition. Its hamburgers are made of lamb or chicken, not beef. It adapted local favorites into items such as McAloo Tikki, a breaded potato pancake on a bun. It divided its kitchens in the vegetarian and nonvegetarian zones making sure that food did not cross the line. Its advertising told Indians that its bright, inviting restaurants did not mean high prices. Its strategy was profits through high volume and low prices. Locally it sponsored sports programs and donations to visible charities.
In 1996, the British adult comic magazine Viz accused McDonald's of plagiarizing the name and format of its longstanding Top Tips feature, in which readers offer sarcastic tips. McDonald's had created an advertising campaign of the same name, which suggested the Top Tips (and then the alternative—save money by going to McDonald's). Some of the similarities were almost word-for-word:
Save a fortune on laundry bills. Give your dirty shirts to Oxfam. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for 50p.
- —Viz Top Tip, published May 1989.
Save a fortune on laundry bills. Give your dirty shirts to a second-hand shop. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for 50p.
- —McDonald's advert, 1996.
The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, which was donated to the charity Comic Relief. However, many Viz readers believed that the comic had given permission for their use, leading to Top Tips submissions such as: "Geordie magazine editors. Continue paying your mortgage and buying expensive train sets ... by simply licensing the Top Tips concept to a multinational burger corporation."
In 2003, a ruling by the UK Advertising Standards Authority determined that the corporation had acted in breach of the codes of practice in describing how its French fries were prepared. A McDonald's print ad stated that "after selecting certain potatoes" "we peel them, slice them, fry them and that's it". It showed a picture of a potato in a McDonald's fries box. In fact the product was sliced, pre-fried, sometimes had dextrose added, was then frozen, shipped, and re-fried and then had salt added.
In 2013, McDonald’s encountered controversy around negative racial stereotypes when the fast-food restaurant tested one of its ads in Germany for the resident Mexican population. The title of the commercial was “Los Wochos,” a made-up word for the Spanish translation of the word “week” in German. This word is offensive because it is not a common expression for the people, but rather a bad attempt to make a German word sound Spanish. The commercial went on to say, “When you turn ketchup into 'salsa picante,' your buddy into a 'muchacho' and your burger into 'chili con carne,' that means The Wochos are here". 'Olé.'” The problem was that not all of these terms are of Mexican origin; rather, “olé” is a typical expression of southern Spain, while chile con carne is a Texan dish. The commercial also featured mariachi players, a luchador (wrestler), men wearing sombreros, women with red flowers in their hair, and many Mexican flags in the background.
In 2015, McDonald’s met further controversy around Mexican stereotypes when it attempted to promote its McBurrito in Mexico. The advertisement was a picture of the burrito with the words, “Tamales are a thing of the past. McBurrito Mexicana also comes wrapped.” The ad was revealed just a day after la Día de la Candelaria, a holiday many celebrate with eating tamales, a traditional Mexican dish eaten during most holidays. The Tex-Mex burrito was perceived by many as an insult to one of Mexico's most traditional and popular meals.
In the 1970s, McDonald's began to diversify their target audience towards the back end of the civil rights movement at the time. To modern audiences, the advertising style in this given campaign appears stereotypical and is a clear example of tokenism. However, at the time it was seen as a huge step forward in terms of overcoming racial issues.
In order to appeal to African-American people, McDonald's exclusively used images of African-American people enjoying a McDonald's meal in their ads. They also adopted linguistic features which were "typical" in that particular culture, such as "g-dropping" for example "Makin' it" or "Dinnertimin'". Additionally, McDonald's also introduced the "Get Down" campaign which was a popular dance move in the African American culture at the time.
As McDonald's was mainly a "white-dominated" agency at the time, it seemed that even though they were attempted to make good with these ad campaigns, they only really achieved appearing "racially naive" and also heavily relied on fraught stereotypes rather than actual information. (Charlton McIlwain 2015)  Another notion, coined by Tom Burrell (2003:240), was "positive realism" which "depicted African-Americans using consumer products in a manner that was authentic and relevant." This term is thought to have influenced and encouraged the depiction of African-Americans in advertising.
i'm lovin' it is a branding campaign by McDonald's Corporation. It was created by Heye & Partner, McDonald's agency based in Unterhaching, Germany, near Munich, and a member of the DDB Worldwide Communications Group, Inc. It was the company's first global advertising campaign and was unveiled in Chicago, Illinois on June 12, 2003 and launched in Munich, Germany on September 2, 2003, under the German title ich liebe es. This is only used in Germany; in Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, the English slogan is used. The English part of the campaign was launched in Australia on September 21, 2003, the UK on September 17, 2003, and in the USA on September 29, 2003 with the music of Tom Batoy and Franco Tortora (Mona Davis Music) and vocals by Justin Timberlake, in which the slogan appears. The motion logo at the time (featuring the "M" zooming out and shining and the "i'm lovin' it" (in different languages, usually in English) zooming to the "M", leaving a trail) was produced by using Adobe After Effects and Adobe InDesign. Also, by September 3, 2003, McDonald's selected more than 30 people to appear in new packaging for McDonald's products, starting with a photoshoot taking place from September 3, 2003 until November 2003. They unveiled new "i'm lovin' it"–themed packaging on December 8, 2003 and rolled it out worldwide throughout 2004 with the final delivery date being November 20, 2004. In January 2007, after a public casting call which received 15,000 submissions, McDonald's selected 24 people to appear as part of the campaign. Images of those chosen, taken from September to December 2006, who had submitted a story and digital photograph which "captured ... themes of inspiration, passion and fun," appeared on McDonald's paper bags and cups worldwide.
In early 2008, McDonald's underwent the first phase of their new image and slogan: 'What we're made of.' This was to promote how McDonald's products are made. Packaging was tweaked a little to feature this new slogan. In November 2008, McDonald's introduced new packaging, eliminating the previous design stated above (except for the Philippines and a few countries, where the previous design is used in tandem with newer packaging and in Fiji, where the previous design is still current) with new, inspirational messages, the "i'm lovin it" slogan (appearing only once on most packages). McDonald's also updated their menu boards with darker, yet warmer colors, more realistic photos of the products featured on plates and the drinks in glasses. From 2009 to 2010, McDonald's introduced new packaging worldwide. However as of 2017, McDonald's continues to have the "i'm lovin it" slogan appear on most all of its product packaging; and has made no major announcement that the company will use any other slogan exclusively in place of this one any time in the near future.
- FIFA World Cup
- National Football League
- Starting in 2010, McDonald's sponsored Jamie McMurray's Bass Pro Shops-sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing #1 Chevrolet as a part-time/secondary sponsor, and later becoming the primary sponsor for the #1 car in 2013. Over time, McDonald's has sponsored numerous NASCAR cars, including Bill Elliott, Jimmy Spencer, Andy Houston, Kasey Kahne, and 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. McDonald's racing not only sponsors NASCAR cars but also sponsors other racing series/divisions, including the #02 McDonald's-sponsored car of Graham Rahal in the IndyCar Series.
- NBA (fast food partner)
- Olympics (official fast-food restaurant)
- IndyCar Series
- Graham Rahal's #02 car
- Rolex Sports Car Series
- Doran Enterprises #77 Ford Dallara
- Burger King advertising
- Fast food advertising
- List of McDonald's ad programs
- Ronald McDonald House
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