Charlotte Rawlings
Jun 18, 2024

McDonald's global CMO: 'Say yes to work that makes you uncomfortable'

Morgan Flatley said businesses should elevate creative excellence and embrace risk.

McDonald's: Morgan Flatley (middle) was joined by Ian Borde and Jill McDonald
McDonald's: Morgan Flatley (middle) was joined by Ian Borde and Jill McDonald

Marketers need to “say yes to work that makes them uncomfortable”, Morgan Flatley, global chief marketing officer at McDonald's, has said.

Speaking at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Flatley stressed “the power of saying yes to work that makes you uncomfortable and makes you nervous”.

Flatley was joined by Ian Borden, executive vice-president and chief financial officer at McDonald’s, as well as Jill McDonald, the brand’s president of internationally owned markets.

McDonald said at the talk: “The easiest thing to do is to say no to an idea that makes you nervous – that's safe, that's comfortable, that's what your entire body is wired to do. It's much harder to say yes.”

The fast-food brand is empowering its marketers to embrace risk, according to Flatley and Borden, as the pair explained how it used to think that marketing and creativity at times could disrupt the business.

Flatley asserted that three things are important when it comes to the marriage of business and creativity: metrics, consistent tools and consistent language, and partnership with the business leaders and agency partners.

Borden added that marketing is “one of the most important investments we make as a business to drive growth”.

Marketing can be considered to be “a bit of a nebulous part of [an] organisation”, Borden said.

McDonald’s also claimed it has full transparency and visibility between its marketers and C-suite in terms of how creativity can impact financial results.

“Our CFOs understand, across the business, what great creative execution can do, what it can drive in terms of incremental outcome for the business,” Borden outlined. “They understand that when we immerse our brand in culture and we connect with consumers and culturally relevant ways, that's going to drive really strong outcomes.”

Over the past five years, McDonald’s sales have grown by more than $30bn (£23.7bn). Borden said marketing and elevating creative excellence “has been a really important contributor to those overall results”.

The ways in which the brand has elevated its creative excellence, according to Flatley, include leaning into its fans and taking inspiration from their rituals, leading to campaigns such as “Make it yours”“You in?” and “Raise your arches” by Leo Burnett.

Flatley added that McDonald’s lets people make their own content with it “because that's what ultimately drives virality”.

She noted the Grimace Shake trend, which went viral on TikTok and celebrated the mascot’s birthday. Grimace was a berry-flavoured milkshake sold at McDonald's restaurants in the US in June last year to celebrate the 52nd birthday of Grimace, a McDonald's-created character that featured in its ads from the 1970s.

@delish Happy birthday king #grimace #mcdonalds ♬ original sound - delish

Borden added that the thing people should be taking risks on is execution, rather than consumer insight or strategy, because this is what can make an impact on the business outcome.

He said: “If you go back a few years in our business, we were taking risks on the idea, the strategy and the execution, which meant that even when we were delivering great creative execution, we often weren't seeing good returns or good business outcomes.

“This is because the consumer insight wasn't real, which meant we weren't connecting that great creative execution with the consumer desire or consumer understanding.”

Borden concluded: “You've got to take risks to deliver the best creative outcomes. You want to empower your marketing teams and your agency partners to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Campaign UK

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