McDonald's: The fast food brand looking to play the long game in India
We caught up with Arvind RP, chief marketing officer, McDonald’s India (W&S), to learn about how EatQual has helped the brand in India, the perception about its burgers decreasing in size and increasing in price, and more...
Earlier this month, McDonald's India, announced the fourth instalment of its 'EatQual' campaign first launched in 2020. This year, the brand tackled colour blindness as it aims to make McDonald's more inclusive, said Arvind RP, chief marketing officer, McDonald's India (West and South), in a conversation with Campaign India. He also discussed the impact of it on the brand, how it aims to break the clutter during the festive season, and more...
When EatQual first launched in 2020, was it thought to be an annual property?
One of the questions we ask ourselves much before we launch a campaign is whether we are releasing a platform or a campaign.
If it's a campaign the answer, of course, it's a one-off thing. But if it's a platform it’s about elevating it every year. We look for an opportunity on the core idea so that we can elevate and do new things every year.
We came up with this idea in 2019. Rahul Mathew from DDB Mudra worked alongside us on this, and the agency is co-creator of the EatQual platform. The implementation happened only in 2020. We were very clear that this was a platform idea and knew more could happen around it, and a case in point is the equal colours film now.
We want to make it relevant to more and more people. At the time of sign-off of this campaign, we had an idea board of possible ideas for 10 years, and we just looked to pick them up annually.
How has it impacted McDonald’s in India considering it’s a bit different from the light-hearted and fun content we are used to seeing?
The core idea for EatQual comes from the core brand proposition. We have a mission of making delicious good moments easy for everyone. That's been the brand proposition globally for quite some time.
EatQual is inspired by the ‘everyone’ bit. We want to get everyone under the brand’s umbrella. McDonald's is a very democratic and inclusive brand. It’s for children, families, young professionals on the move and more.
But like you stated most of our brand work is light-hearted, EatQual is in a different space. That has been a key endeavour for us. Emotions are a canvas, and storytelling is a big canvas too. When you talk about emotions in general, yes, humour has a big role, but it’s not the only emotion that can drive storytelling. Work like EatQual pushes the boundaries, reminds us as marketers and communicates to consumers that the whole storytelling landscape is more than lightheartedness and humour and there are multiple facets to it.
How has this impacted the brand in India?
The initiative and the fact that it’s the fourth year speaks volumes about how we believe it has impacted the brand. It’s helped the brand's trust scores.
We are big believers of DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusiveness), and this pushes hard on the agenda of inclusivity. That brings its benefits over time. My chairperson keeps reminding us that we are in the long game of building a franchise whose foundation is an aspirational brand for consumers. This platform is nothing but a key initiative in the long game.
Do we have an equivalent of this globally? Considering this is an idea that can work across markets, has it been adopted globally?
The EatQual platform per se, is unique to India. There are equivalent platforms across the world though. The mature markets in the McDonald’s ecosystem have big initiatives on DE&I. They cover different dimensions, be it customers or employees. There’s a lot of work globally on employee inclusivity. McDonald’s is such a big brand which gives it the ability to make things happen in a real marketplace and can impact at scale.
The innovation on the menu continues with the recently announced Italian range. When you come up with products like these, how does it impact original menu items like the McVeggie and McChicken?
The audience for these products would be completely new visiting us for completely new occasions. McVeggie, McChicken and Aloo Tikki are what we call the classics. They are the foundation of McDonald’s.
Then comes the indulgence occasions. Then some customers also want bigger and more filling burgers. So, from a need perspective, there’s a ‘choti bhook’ (less hunger) and ‘badi bhook’ (very hungry). The classic burgers satisfy the choti bhook well and the bigger gourmet burgers satisfy the latter well.
Gourmet burgers were launched two years ago when we saw a gap in our portfolio to launch bigger and more indulgent burgers. The Cheesy Italian range is one more step in that direction. Cheese is big in India, and for various reasons, we felt that there’s an opportunity for burgers to participate in this story, and that’s what we are doing.
Talking about 'choti bhook and badi bhook', there’s a perception about how the burgers are reducing in size while increasing in price. What's your take on this?
That’s impossible. It’s an important aspect for us and we track it over time. It comes from a core belief that you don’t tinker with consumers’ favourites. This is built over 20-25 years and it’s not just an Indian belief. It’s a popular franchise which has happened to enhance its portfolio over time.
We do a lot of social listening, and let me put it this way, it may be a perception for some people, but there’s nothing credible about it.
One more perception is that the youth is focussing more towards healthy food. While there’s a new range in place to tackle this, McDonald’s is linked to still being a ‘fast food and unhealthy’ brand…
Consumers are looking for mindful indulgence now. They want to know about what’s in their food and how nutritious it is or the amount of protein in it. They also are looking into whether the product is made right. They are asking plenty of questions now.
We believe in being a step ahead. Globally, there’s a huge library of food improvements which have been undertaken and we are also pushing the envelope in India. We’ve launched products like the whole wheat bun. We have reduced the sodium content in fries and sauces too over the last four years.
We have new meal options also which include fruit juices.
Importantly, this has to be communicated to consumers and that’s what we keep doing to grow the franchise. We keep taking these initiatives and communicating them to the audience.
How has McCafe done for the brand? How much of McDonald's sales come from it?
I can’t comment on the sales bit but a substantial business comes from there now. The ability to have strong beverage options apart from carbonated beverages is a big differentiator for the brand.
McCafe also allows us to collaborate. We are working with the likes of KitKat, and Oreo and launching collaborations for shakes.
Today, we have more than 300 of our 360 stores with a McCafe in them. The numbers will only catch up over some time. Be it in a tier one or three city, its relevance is very strong.
What are the plans for the festive season this year? How will you be looking to break the clutter?
Apart from the festive season, it’s also World Cup time. With this around, delivery is a big component as people sit together to watch games. We have a whole playbook on delivery to tackle this as we want to make match-time meals relevant whether it’s on our platform (McDelivery) or the likes of Swiggy and Zomato.
The other initiative is around the festivals. We have a campaign for Dussehra and Diwali. These occasions have always been periods where our sales grew. We took it up as an agenda last year to make the brand more relevant. What you see here is an insight-based campaign of how McDonald’s is relevant during Diwali.
Last year, when we released the Diwali film, many people reached out to me asking for the connection between the festival and the brand. I explained to them that at the end of the day, we sell a lot during the festivals. There are various occasions during these festivals where brands like McDonald’s become important. This campaign brings to life that insight. While there’s the core traditional Diwali with your immediate family, where Indian sweets and homemade food take over, but there are other occasions with your colleagues, and friends where McDonald’s takes over.
What’s your take on sustainability? What is McDonald’s doing in this space?
Many years ago, we moved to paper straws from plastic straws. A lot of the initiatives on sustainability are in our restaurants. We have a model restaurant in Kolhapur which is completely net zero. It’s completely solar-powered. The other initiative we are working on is re-using our used oil to generate energy and so on.
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