What does a brand do when most of its competitors are recasting or overhauling themselves in a highly competitive industry? If you're McDonald's, well, you keep doing what you've been doing. Because everyone else is — still — trying to catch you.
And as he takes over from Jim Skinner as skipper of a smooth-sailing ship in a high-profile year with the London 2012 Olympics looming, new CEO Don Thompson has pledged to do exactly that: double down on the fundamentals that have enabled McDonald's basically to skate above the Great Recession and global economic stagnation even since then, and keep finding ways to improve its brand, menu and customer experience.
Contrast that to Skinner's recent take on the gyrations by rivals Burger King and Wendy's. "They have spurts of enthusiasm for their brand, and they're doing some meaningful things, but it's still business as usual for us," he told investors and others on a earnings call with analysts on Friday. "We're optimizing our menu and improving our relevance and accessibility, and we expect to maintain our competitive differentiation."
Thompson pledged that McDonald's will continue its focus on modernizing restaurants with its new decor, planning about 800 domestic remodels this year. It also plans to optimize its menu with more nutrition-based products, he said, as well as innovations coming from outside the United States, such as the successful limited-time Chicken McBites popcorn chicken promotion, which originated in Australia and have been tested in Europe.
Given that Americans, Europeans and others are still pinching pennies when they go out to eat, McDonald's also plans to continue to highlight its historic association with value pricing through various menu machinations.
On a bigger platform, McDonald's has been integrating sustainability as one of the pillars of its brand, and its sponsorship of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London gives the brand a golden-arches opportunity to underscore that association.
Among other things it's rolling out around the Olympics, McDonald's plans to recycle and reuse all of the furniture and equipment it's installing on-site, and nearly all of the building materials, that visitors will see at the four new Olympics-venue restaurants (which will be the company's biggest restaurant site in the world) it's now building for the games.
It's "an opportunity to spotlight some of our best practices in area such as energy efficiency" and restaurant design," said Bob Langert, McDonald's VP of sustainability, in a press release.
While McDonald's doesn't intend to give one of its brand staples, Ronald McDonald, much visibility in London (where it's ramping up a youth-oriented Olympics campaign starring the official Olympics mascots instead), the company continues to stand by its flagship mascot. Responding to a question from Ad Age magazine about whether Ronald now could be considered on a par with Joe Camel, as nutrition activists relentlessly hound the chain about childhood obesity, Neil Golden, McDonald's U.S. CMO, didn't flinch.
"To compare Ronald McDonald to Joe Camel is unfair and inaccurate," he commented. The clown "represents the joy and fun of the McDonald's brand and brings happiness to people of all ages."