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McDonald?s pivots towards native ads to reach younger consumers

McDonald?s is switching up its traditionally rich media-heavy mobile advertisements with a new native ad campaign that touts the origins of its coffee drinks.

The mobile ads are running within the mobile sites of publishers including Time Inc.?s Real Simple and Hearst?s Elle. With the burger chain recently reporting same-store sales declines, the native strategy could help it appeal to younger consumers, an important demographic for the brand. 

?Countless reports show that college students have the highest propensity to ?banner blindness,? meaning, they don?t even see the banner on the page,? said Tony Vlismas, senior director of marketing at Polar, Toronto.

?Absolutely, McDonald?s will be speaking directly to this demo by using native ads,? he said. ?This demo is use to getting all their information in streams, so having an ad in that stream, provided it?s truly native, they should see success.?

Mr. Vlismas is not affiliated with McDonald?s. He commented based on his expertise on the subject.

McDonald?s did not respond to press inquiries.

Soft-selling burgers
The ad resembles a piece of editorial content and reads, ?This Is Where Your McCafé Comes From.? A second line of copy indicates that the ad is sponsored by McDonald?s. 

On Real Simple?s mobile site, the ad is shaded with a light grey color to differentiate itself from editorial content.

A click-through on the ad expands to show a 30-second YouTube video. 

The video showcases how McDonald?s coffee is made through a time-consuming and laborious process with arabica coffee beans. McDonald?s creative is meant to shed light on how its products are made, which has long been key for quick-service restaurants.

Buttons underneath the ad encourage consumers to share the content via email, Twitter and Facebook.

McDonald?s newest campaign is a stark change from the brand?s typical flashy mobile ads that typically pack multiple calls-to-action and graphics into more interactive ad formats.

The burger chain has tested a number of different mobile ad units in the past year, with the majority playing up rich media, social media and other attention-grabbing tactics.

In March, the burger chain ran a rich media ad that included GIFs and rich media to build up Facebook ?Likes? (see story). 

McDonald?s and its agency DDB Chicago also created a number of interactive mobile ads in 2013, including ads that ran within Facebook and Twitter and included video and location (see story). 

Slagging sales
At the same time that McDonald?s is taking a different approach with its mobile advertising, the chain continues to bring in sluggish sales.

McDonald?s announced its first-quarter results on Tuesday with same-store sales down 1.7 percent year-over-year and a three percent dip in operating income.

Similar to other brands trying to lure in younger consumers, McDonald?s has placed a big emphasis on digital marketing the past few years, including a series of worldwide mobile ordering and loyalty app test programs (see story). 

Since the majority of the brand?s advertising initiatives so far have played up bold creative, this campaign could suggest that the company is now trying to appeal towards younger demographics with creative that feels more authentic.

Native advertising has racked up a significant amount of industry interest and controversy in the past year, but at the bare minimum is viewed as an alternative to static banners that brands and agencies often complain about as being ineffective or an eyesore to consumers.

For McDonald?s, the opportunities with native advertising could be a significant way for the brand to connect with millennials and teens on a more thoughtful level.

At the same time, pushing content that comes across as too authentic can throw off teenagers from a brand?s marketing.

?Native ads are hot, but I think the challenge for McDonald's and everybody else is to do it in an authentic manner as opposed to cheesy or misleading,? said Mike McGuire, Santa Clara, CA-based vice president of research at Gartner for Marketing Leaders.

?It?s an opportunity to try and create a link to the customer that's beyond just product images and hip music,? he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York