New McDonald's ad owes idea to Howard woman; TV-radio campaign starts today here and in 9 other areas


As the operator of four McDonald's restaurants in Howard County, Cathy Bell spends a lot of time thinking about how to improve service and boost business.

She was doing just that one day last summer when the lyrics of Donna Summer's 1983 hit, "She Works Hard for the Money," ran through her head. Why not use it for a McDonald's commercial? she asked herself.

The 41-year-old Columbia woman's brainstorm has turned into a new $1 million-plus McDonald's television and radio advertising campaign that's being launched today in 10 U.S. markets, including Baltimore, Boston, New York, Hartford, Conn., and Detroit.

"We hope this will add to the customer's perception of what they're getting for their money," Bell said.

Bell's idea made a hit with the Baltimore CoOp of McDonald's owners when she suggested it, singing a few bars to refresh people's memories. And when Arnold Communications Inc., the group's advertising and public relations firm, approached Donna Summer about re-recording her song, the singer liked the idea. It's the first time the artist has re-recorded a selection for a commercial.

Summer recorded eight renditions, including swing, big band and country versions, according to Laura Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore office of Arnold Communications.

"You get more for the money 'cause McDonald's treats you right," the fast-food chain's lyrics say. At the end, Summer whispers: "Did somebody say McDonald's?" dovetailing with the theme of McDonald's current national campaign.

The TV spot shows glimpses of families having fun at McDonald's and highlights the company's food, children's play areas and Ronald McDonald House and other community projects.

Bell is amazed that the idea she conceived as a boost for local business has had such broad appeal.

"When I was told [Donna Summer] had agreed to a contract, I said 'Wow, is this really happening?' " Bell said. "Even if you didn't grow up when that song was around, you can relate to it. It's hip. It brings a jazzy overtone to the lyrics."

McDonald's has a tradition of letting ideas bubble up from restaurant owners and operators, said Carl Whitmire, vice president and regional director for the Baltimore office of Arnold Communications Inc., which took Bell's idea and turned it into a campaign.

"We think it's an outrageously good idea," Whitmire said. "It's one of those big ideas that comes from knowing your customer better than your competitors and wanting to market them in words and images that appeal to them and make them want to visit your restaurant.

"When you get a customer walking into McDonald's, and they've chosen to spend their money with you, you better treat them right."

In recent years, McDonald's has struggled against shrinking market share in the United States and a falling stock price -- although the fast-food giant's international success has remained strong.

But lately, there has been an upward swing for the $35 billion company that has more than 12,400 McDonald's brand restaurants in the United States alone.

McDonald's 1998 sales were $18.123 billion, representing 42.9 percent of the $42.265 billion in U.S. hamburger quick-service sales, according to Tom Miner, a principal at Technomics, a Chicago food industry marketing and management consultant firm.

That's up from 1997, when McDonalds' had 42.18 percent of the U.S. hamburger quick-service sales.

The strategy that seemed to work for McDonald's overseas and is being incorporated more frequently in the United States is to develop regional menus and campaigns tailored to what customers want, Miner said.

"There's more attention to the basics, developing the promotions and menus to fit the local customers' tastes," Miner said. "The Baltimore area campaign is the perfect example of that."

McDonald's has tested regional products before, for instance selling lobster rolls in the Boston market and testing bratwurst in restaurants in Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

"What they'd like to do now is develop that more strongly and help the customers understand that they're doing it for them," Miner said.

Rod Mann, owner of three McDonald's in Dundalk and CoOp vice president, who was involved in planning the new advertising, considers it the "single most exciting campaign" in his 31 years in the business.

He predicts that the campaign will catch on in markets across the nation. An Arnold spokeswoman says plans are afoot to extend the ad campaign into another 10 cities.

"It comes from the grass roots," Mann said of the campaign. "It comes from the people who know the customers best."

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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