'We just sensed he’d get it’ - Behind the Campaign with McDonald's and rugby union star Joe Marler

David Fraser, founder and managing director of Ready10, delves into the agency's campaign for McDonald's featuring Harlequins player and 'hard man' Joe Marler.

'We just sensed he’d get it’ - Behind the Campaign with McDonald's and rugby union star Joe Marler

What was the campaign in a nutshell?

Throughout January, McDonald's ran the Appy Days promotion – a month-long campaign of money-saving deals, available exclusively on the My McDonald's App. We were tasked with bringing extra attention to 'Free Fries Friday' and, determined to break from the norm, we gave England rugby player Joe Marler a ring.

How did the idea come into being?

The idea started with a question: "How do you market a product everyone already knows?"

It was this search for a new way of talking about the fries that led to the discovery of an interesting nugget (pun intended). On its website McDonald's refers to the famous fries as 'fluffy on the inside, hard on the outside'. We'd never seen this line publicised before, but we immediately 'got it' and thought a really literal take on that could be quite funny.

What ideas were rejected?

Rather than ideas, it was people. The usual hard-on-the-outside suspects were considered, but there was always a reservation on how willing (or able) they'd be to fully commit to the gag. When Joe was suggested it seemed to make perfect sense. We just sensed that he'd 'get it'.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process

McDonald's is a very nimble client and signed off on Marler and the script quickly. From talent booking to scripting, filming and then release took less than two weeks.

When it came to creation, we booked a single-shooter and took ourselves down to the Harlequins training ground – the only place we could shoot with Marler, given the tight turnaround. What followed was a very enjoyable couple of hours of 'guerrilla filmmaking' – matching the voiceover script with the environment around us. With the shoot day complete, the content hit social media on Thursday evening before a traditional push on Friday morning – and the reaction was instantly electric.

Then it happened: the Piers-du-resistance! Piers Morgan had previously retweeted the content, but then went 1,000 steps further by replaying the entire ad during Good Morning Britain and proceeding to tell everyone how much he loved it. Five mins after his comments, there was a surge of app downloads and searches for 'free fries' skyrocketed.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Consumer familiarity with the product was our biggest challenge; the solution was to pursue humour. Specifically, we used a particular brand of self-aware humour that taps into the modern audience's craving for honest and transparency-led marketing.

While there could have been a worry that it was just too different from 'expected' McDonald's content, when you have an enlightened client it makes the world of difference, and this is where we must give a shout out to [McDonald's UK head of campaigns and communities] Louise Page. She backs her agencies, isn't afraid to take a risk and is a genuine collaborator in making sure the work is as good as it can be. A joy for an agency.

As it was, all our favourite comments on social were variations of "This is soooo good, can't believe it's McDonald's." That was the sort of reaction that let us know we'd got something special.

How did you measure the results?

We used our 'hearts, minds and bottom lines' principle. Quantitative indicators such as number of views and media articles were measured alongside more qualitative data such as the amount of shares, comments and likes that indicate a stronger level of engagement. But most important of all were the 'bottom-line' metrics – those that had a real business impact.

The joy of working with clients such as McDonald's is the accountability. Every piece of content we did could be measured alongside product spikes and company data. Searches for the My McDonald's app rose by 200 per cent on the morning of the Good Morning Britain piece and overall recognition by 83 per cent in the five-day period after the Marler content went live. This also delivered commercially for McDonald's – which, as you might expect, is about the limit of what I can say on that. But it did. In short, it was the perfect combination of earning attention, branded lolz and business goals.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

Don't be afraid to sell. This idea was nearly canned on our side because "it didn't feel very McDonald'sy", and so many ideas end up in the bin thanks to this sort of submissive agency thinking. If you can specifically explain why something is completely off-brand, it's probably not right – but if you bin every idea just because it 'doesn't feel very (INSERT BRAND HERE)', every brand would do the same thing forever, and that's a miserable existence. Why should a brand that caters for everyone be so typecast itself?

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