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McDonald’s Next Step: Create the Content, Control the Media

dreaming_big_posterIn Scandinavia, McDonald’s is trying a next step in brand marketing that harks back to—and updates—the age a half-century ago when Procter & Gamble produced “As the World Turns,” “Another World” and other soap operas.

McDonald’s has created “Dreaming in Mono,” a roughly hour-long film that it has broken into seven, 8-minute segments now airing weekly on TV stations in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. However, unlike with P&G, which produced soap operas merely to secure a place to run its TV commercials, McDonald’s created this series as a property it can leverage across marketing media beyond TV, especially online (where advertising is cheaper). 

The aim is to connect via nontraditional and social media with an audience difficult to reach through conventional marketing tactics and messages. If this works for McDonald’s, it could revive the idea (at least in Europe) of content creation and ownership by marketers. This is the difference between being the exclusive restaurant sponsor of the Winter Olympics and owning the Games.

The irony of the “Dreaming in Mono” title is that McDonald’s is seeking to master multichannel marketing. Because it owns the content, TV is just one medium and not necessarily the most important one. Trayliners and posters promote the program in each of the 460 McDonald’s restaurants in the region and trailers play on screens in those units with digital media capability. The episodes can be seen online at www.dreaminginmono.com, where fans can play program-related games, learn more about characters, comment on the show, download and comment on the program’s music and more. The show also is discussed on the program’s Facebook page and on Twitter.

A decade ago, McDonald’s was studying how it could its restaurants as retail centers where it might peddle products other than food (video rentals, for example). But now it’s realizing that it should examine how to use what it has to build its own brand and increase shares of both mind of and stomach.

“With three-quarters of a million customers a day [in McDonald's Nordic-region restaurants], we have our own very large media channel, and it really needs to be activated,” Shaun Russell, marketing director for McDonald’s Nordic, says in a video interview available on the “Dreaming in Mono” home page.

Dreaming In Mono – Episode #1 from Dreaming In Mono on Vimeo.

McDonald’s tried this strategy on a smaller scale last year in Australia with “Macca’s Chef,” an online-only series about two young McDonald’s crew members. “Dreaming in Mono” is much more ambitious in its scope.

Yes, two minutes into the first episode (which aired Jan. 24) a scene takes place in a McDonald’s, but that’s as deep as the burger salesmanship goes. The basic synopsis of the series is that it concerns “an old rivalry between Alain Duchamp and his nemesis Hansi von Spitzmark [that] triggers Alain to embark on an amazing endeavour; to gather a team of Nordic winter sports enthusiasts and rectify a wrong committed 36 years ago.” The program itself isn’t about burgers, but the company you can thank for presenting the program is.

“This project started about a year ago and the reason we started it was we’re a very big advertiser across the region, one of the biggest, and we realized that from a brand point of view a lot of  our traditional approaches to brand communication weren’t working in the way we wanted it to work,” says Russell.

“So we said, let’s take that kind of typical investment we would make in promoting our brands and let’s totally rethink the way in which we spend that money,” Russell explains. “Really the ambition was to find and create a story rather than sell a proposition. Create a story about our customers that people can engage in and have fun with.”

Making traditional-, alternative- and social-media applications work together was important if McDonald’s was going to reach the audience it wanted with “Dreaming in Mono,” Russell explains. “That’s [an audience] primarily from the ages of 16 and 32; the kind of people who now watch television while also surfing the net and using their iPhone. So it’s … one of our regular audiences at McDonald’s but also an audience that is very hard to connect emotionally with to build any kind of loyalty. This is really an attempt to try a totally different approach with that audience.”

The cast includes “a Finn, a couple of Norwegians, a Swede and a Dane,” and then consciously plays off “the stereotypes, the prejudices and the natural rivalries between the peoples of the region [which] I think makes for very, very interesting drama,” says Russell. The program was developed with digital agency Perfect Fools, with offices in Stockholm, Amsterdam and New York City.

Additionally, McDonald’s realized it employees 40,000 crew members at its Nordic stores, “an enormous audience in itself,” Russell says. “And we’ll be working hard not only to use our restaurants in front of our customers but also working to engage our crews and get them interested in the concept and ultimately help bring it to life.” One McDonald’s crew member is in the show’s cast.

“Dreaming in Mono” is set to conclude its run in early March.

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