Fast-food delivery

You've seen the posters for McDonald's new 'healthy' range. Now they're bringing the message direct to 17 million doorsteps. Lucy Aitken reports
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The Independent Online

So, who invited Ronald McDonald round for tea? A McDonald's "change" booklet will be arriving on 17 million doormats across the country anytime now. Normally associated with high-profile, big-budget and, occasionally, celebrity-studded TV campaigns, McDonald's is changing. Not only can you buy salads and porridge there now, the fast-food brand has switched its communications strategy to the mail drop, a ruse normally preferred by dodgy minicab firms, pizza joints offering meal deals, and governments offering advice on what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

The McDonald's 24-page booklet that comes through the letter box will attempt to capture attention in UK homes that are either within a 14-minutes radius of a McDonald's restaurant on foot, or a 16-minute drive from a McDonald's "Drive-Thru".

When a big brand such as McDonald's lands on the doormat, alongside the credit-card junk mail and the Indian takeaway leaflets, it's got to stand out. Otherwise, it risks being chucked in the bin without so much as a second glance. Considering the strong feelings that McDonald's stirs in certain people, some will chuck it in the bin straight away anyway.

Laurie Morgan, head of marketing for McDonald's UK, says: "People are used to seeing McDonald's on TV, so we wanted to surprise them and put the message somewhere they're not used to seeing it. The booklet is about us making the effort to come to people and tell them the story. We couldn't do that if we just took a page of advertising. The old style McDonald's was all 'sell, sell, sell'."

The Marketing Store, McDonald's communications agency specialising in below-the-line advertising, has designed this matey piece of marketing. It has the following introduction: "Hi. We're McDonald's - a great big company that would love to come round to your house and tell you about how we're changing."

This everyday, easy-going chumminess is typical of the space that modern brands want to occupy, according to John Williamson, board director at the branding consultancy Wolff Olins: "All 21st-century brands have to be interactive and engaging. For a brand such as McDonald's, you have to rewrite the programme."

The booklet aims to bring together all of the marketing messages that McDonald's has been trying to communicate recently. It's one part of McDonald's tripartite strategy, which also features 48- and 96- sheet posters on which it has ditched its famous golden arches for a question mark and a single line of copy: "McDonald's. But not as you know it." The last part of the strategy is the introduction of healthier breakfast items such as porridge, bagels and fruit toast.

To date, the healthier eating initiatives - the Salads Plus range, fruit bags and reduced-salt fries - have not helped to stem the tidal wave of negative publicity that McDonald's has attracted over obesity. The release of Super Size Me, in particular, zoomed in on McDonald's fatty fare, large servings and the associated health risks. So the booklet invites consumers to spend longer with the brand, so that they can really understand how much it cares about health and nutrition. It's not just pushing saturated fat and sugar to the nation's wobbly-arsed fast-food junkies. Honest.

To promote its "grilled chicken, flatbread and salad" offer, for instance, there's a svelte woman in tight jeans, and an invitation to "Go Dutch with your best friend". On the "free Happy Meal with every Premium Salad" promotion, a mother and her small daughter are pictured out shopping. The copy reads: "You go girls."

But it's not all girl power, bottles of Evian and toned behinds. All the old menu favourites are featured, showing that McDonald's may have added some healthier items on the menu but, don't panic, you can still stuff your face with burgers and fries if you want to. For the blokes, there's a Big Mac offer designed around a football theme, echoing McDonald's TV ad during Euro 2004. And for the "two cheeseburgers for 99p" promotion, two schoolchildren are photographed. The copy, with tongue-in-cheek authority, orders one of them to "take regular exercise young man". There are also two extra-value meals for the price of one.

The A5-size booklet boasts £24 of vouchers, so there's a "money-saving" incentive to try out the new-look menu for yourself. In January, The Marketing Store distributed a wallet-sized book of vouchers to 16 million UK homes, which reportedly worked well for McDonald's. "Whereas last year it was just vouchers, this time it's about telling the story in a completely different way," says Anna Lawrenson, the account director for McDonald's at The Marketing Store. "The tone and style is different. It's trying to be warm and conversational, disarming and engaging. We plan more of this around the story of change. This is the best way to get something into the hands of consumers: it's about activating McDonald's for them on a daily basis."

For McDonald's, it's about getting customers through the door, the quicker the better. McDonald's desperately needs to boost its bottom line. Its latest results were dismal. In fact, they were the worst in its 30-year history: pre-tax profits tumbled by nearly three quarters, from £83.8m to £23.6m.

Morgan comments: "We've had a tough few years: we've lost customers and we need to get them back. We also want our existing customers to eat better, so we're offering a more balanced menu. There are probably some customers who've never considered McDonald's before, and they might want to come in, too, but that would be the icing on the cake."

Or the froth on the cappuccino. McDonald's has lost out to the firmly established coffee culture in the UK that sees the likes of Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Caffè Nero and Coffee Republic all jockeying for position to be the coffee chain of choice. One page in the McDonald's booklet says, rather accusingly: "We've been noticing that you like a really good cup of coffee every day. We do, too. But you've been walking past our restaurants to buy it."

Mark Phillips, managing director of the Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee, says that he welcomes McDonald's attempts to increase understanding of coffee, but adds: "With 33 years of Italian heritage, we serve an entirely different customer base."

According to Morgan, McDonald's has invested £6,000 per restaurant in providing decent coffee made from freshly ground Kenco beans. The booklet also makes much of the restaurants's fresh ingredients.

Morgan compares the "change" campaign to BT's ads welcoming back customers after their brief affairs with the competition fizzled out. "Our customers have grown up and we need to grow up, too. This is about what our customers want, not about what McDonald's wants."

She adds: "We want to surprise and delight, and to come back in a soft, human way. In 12 months' time, we want people who come to McDonald's with their kids to be totally guilt-free."

Wolff Olins's John Williamson comments: "Part of this change should be about regaining confidence while being careful not to lose the real strength of the brand. Over the last 10 years, McDonald's has not been confident because it feels defensive, and McLibel was part of that. But McDonald's has got to change. If you stand still, like M&S, then you're dead."