Would you like fries with your branding?

John Robinson, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute
By John Robinson, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute | 6 February 2015

Australian consumers have been served a marketing campaign with a slightly different taste than your typical fast-food ad this month. The new ads, featuring close up snapshots of juicy burgers and golden fries are placed across Australia on bus sides, bus shelters and billboards. What’s missing in this campaign is any mention of the brand’s name or traditional branding tactics - either a logo or a slogan. This is not a creative or branding oversight and it doesn’t seem to stop people from instantly recognising the brand behind these mouth-watering images.

Takeaway giant McDonald’s are the chefs behind this series of unusually ‘naked’ ads. It’s hard to believe a campaign with no words, slogans or logos could somehow be instantly recognisable. Yet, McDonald’s have proven yet again that regular use of branding over time pays off when it comes to brand identification. A common dilemma advertisers’ face is how to accurately portray who is actually advertising. Research at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shows that of the people who see an ad, less than 50% correctly identify who is advertising.

McDonald’s has successfully built several brand assets and strengthened these over time, creating a very distinct image that is now instantly recognisable. A comparable example would be Coca-Cola and their consistent use of the ‘contour bottle’, which they have used to distinguish themselves since 1915. You’d be lucky to find someone who couldn’t tell you which brand the bottle belonged too. McDonald’s have followed a similar path with their use of their iconic products and other distinctive assets, such as the ‘Golden Arches’ and the colour red in their advertising.

The regular use of McDonald’s products with the brand name has built strong links over time between their products and the McDonald’s brand. These links go right down to the use of sesame seeds on top of their burger’s buns, the colour and texture of the cheese sauce and the packaging of their French-fries. All these cues help you recall McDonald’s from your memory when presented with these elements (for good or bad reasons).

McDonald’s idea to use visual cues in their advertising that millions of people are familiar with and already link to their brand is a smart one. This has resulted in the strengthening of associations to McDonald’s in consumers’ minds. If you were to walk down a street in a major capital city around the world with a picture of a Big Mac, it’s likely the majority of people you present it to would be able to correctly identify it.

However, McDonald’s must remember there is still a large group of people out there who know very little about them. And if they do purchase their burgers, it’s a rare occurrence. Unlike the more regular McDonald’s customers, these people may not be familiar with McDonald’s branding shortcuts. So while, the unbranded ads are an optional tactical move for McDonald’s, they must remember there is still people who don't necessarily associate sesame seeds on a burger with the McDonald’s brand. These people would still need to be reminded who is advertising in order to establish the link between these cues and McDonald’s. Otherwise people may be reminded of generic burgers and fries and potentially misattribute the advertising to another brand. Suggesting, brand owners still need to supplement these types of ads with fully branded ones to strengthen the links between the cues and the brand in the minds of all consumers.

John Robinson

Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

University of South Australia Business School


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