MOY 2019: Antoinette Benoit’s golden strategy

The McDonald's CMO has Canadians, from kids to grandpas, lovin' the Golden Arches.

Antoinette Benoit

This week, strategy is rolling out our profiles of the 2019 Marketers of the Year. Be sure to check out all of this year’s honourees as the week rolls on, and see who the overall winner is when they are revealed at this year’s AToMiC Awards.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of strategy.

Antoinette Benoit steers a large, fast-moving ship. From her office in Toronto’s north end, the chief marketer of McDonald’s Canada oversees a team of roughly 50 employees who manage everything from insight generation to integrated campaigns and CRM. Collectively, they put out around 50 campaigns each year: think of it as one campaign per person, for a full 365 days.

Managing that kind of output while maintaining its brand message has its challenges, of course, as the company looks to speak with almost every demographic possible through segment-specific strategies that inform its marketing, products, restaurant experiences and media mix.

Benoit, who unexpectedly launched into a marketing career at Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive back in the early ‘90s (after initially planning to work in the non-profit sector), has learned to trust the growing expertise of her internal team and agency partners – namely, Cossette and OMD – to get the job done.

“There are a lot of things I don’t understand,” she says. “But I know there’s always someone I can ask who knows.” Her role – and what she says she’s best at – is “seeing where we should go and looking for people who can bring the technology, the storytelling and the vision together.”

In the CMO’s mind, the 64-year-old global burger chain still faces the challenge of “getting noticed when you’re not a Canadian brand in a country where Canadians trust Canadian brands so much.” But to say that it’s on the right track would be an understatement. Having reached its highest sales growth and market share in over a decade, McDonald’s Canada has certainly reaped the fruits of Benoit’s leadership. Under her command, marketing ROI is up 33%, sales continue to grow and McDonald’s Canada now serves three million customers daily, making Canada one of its top performing markets globally.

Cooking up a digital strategy

During her four years in the role, Benoit has brought on new talent, new technology and new capabilities to prepare for the challenges ahead, including the need to create digital experiences for increasingly tech-savvy customers. A year after arriving in Canada from McDonald’s in Europe, where she held various marketing roles, Benoit began bolstering the team’s internal digital capabilities. Since then, the brand has tripled its digital media budget. In 2018, digital accounted for 40% of its overall spend.

Increasing the team’s online competencies has been crucial as McDonald’s pushes mobile ordering through its My McD’s app, launched in 2016, which allows customers to order ahead, view deals, customize meals and pay with their phone. Over the last year, the brand saw a 23% increase in app downloads, thanks in part to a digital/OOH campaign for National French Fry Day that featured a live-stream of social comments as they were broadcast through a drive-thru speaker at the top of Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain.

Looking ahead, Benoit also intends to bring McDonald’s CRM capabilities in-house in order to better use the data it’s currently collecting from the app.

On the creative side, the QSR begins every campaign by generating insights internally, but under the strategic leadership of its creative agency, Cossette. From there, the team moves to a collaborative planning process with other business units to ensure priorities are aligned.

McDonald’s embraced better audience segmentation company-wide two years ago, says Jammie Ogle, managing director at OMD, which has enabled it to balance connecting with customers on a macro-level, while also being distinguishable at a campaign level.

“Part of our success is having a clear brand vision, so all the teams have a clear articulation of what the brand stands for and our priorities,” says Benoit.

To deliver on her goals, the marketer worked with Cossette to build an agency team dedicated to the account and united talent across creative, strategy, community management and delivery, says Kathy McGuire, SVP, managing director, Cossette.
BicMac AnniversaryWould you like a quirky campaign with that?

From the fall 2018 “Nuggetiquette” campaign, which showcased the eccentric ways McDonald’s fans indulge in its classic menu item (Chicken McNuggets), to the “MacCoin” that could be redeemed for a Big Mac in celebration of its 50th birthday – it can be a challenge to find a single idea that unifies all of the brand’s marketing efforts.

Being “always on” means risking losing the brand vision, notes Benoit. More and more, McDonald’s has needed to articulate clear branding and messaging across all of its campaigns, she says, noting that her team is currently working with its agency partners on a new framework that she hopes will “help us be more disciplined and make sure that we are more of one brand versus several brands.”

In summarizing her vision, however, Benoit says the brand’s most successful campaigns have been around positioning McDonald’s as a meeting place where “connections happen.”

To show its commitment to being a diverse and welcoming place (empowered by a broader “come as you are” mentality), McDonald’s filters all of its marketing efforts through the lens of wanting to show that it’s a part of the fabric of Canada. The brand’s most recent campaigns also revolve around everyday interactions between people and product, and they portray the QSR as an “enabler of feel-good moments.”

The brand’s “Moving Day” work in Quebec (where it depicted iconic menu items using brightly coloured moving boxes) was another example of McDonald’s having “found our sweet spot of understanding what’s relevant to Canadians, and tapping into what Canadians love most about our brand,” Benoit says.

The closer her marketing team (and agency partners) can get to the core of the McDonald’s brand, she says, the more the creative output is likely to succeed – both at home and abroad.

BMxBThat helps explain why so many Canadian campaigns have recently been picked up globally. “Is it still a Big Mac?,” for one, has inspired work in France, Brazil and Sweden. Similarly, last year’s “BMxB” commercials (above) satirizing highly stylized fashion and beauty ads have rolled out in Brazil and Switzerland. And 2018’s “Follow the Arches,” which earned Cossette a Grand Prix at Cannes, has appeared in Latin American markets.

That idea was brought to McDonald’s by Cossette, which saw an opportunity to solve a business problem (helping drivers locate a McDonald’s restaurant) through sleek design via way-finding billboards on highways featuring deconstructed Golden Arches.

The sharing of work between markets is actually part of a larger company vision aimed at examining how others have addressed key challenges, with the goal of then testing the approach locally, the chief marketer says.

“There are so many great ideas in the McDonald’s system and consumer insights travel extremely well, especially for our brand,” she adds.

When the QSR’s Canadian arm is faced with pumping out 50 campaigns per year, Benoit says, it helps to be able to tap the creativity of other markets: “You don’t steal shamelessly, but you steal smartly.”