Analysis: What McD's SG comeback teaches us about brand love

 

It is safe to say the return of McDonald’s Singapore warmed the hearts of many. Following an advisory by the Ministry of Health, the fast food giant shut its doors on 19 April and further extended the closure until 10 May. During this period, McDonald’s Singapore continued to pay its employees, while placing its marketing on hold.

Needless to say, when it opened for business on Monday, the global fast food giant was welcomed with an overwhelming outpour of love and support - which unfortunately led to a temporarily downtime of its app. Speaking to Marketing on the brand's return and love from the consumers, Agatha Yap, senior director for marketing & digital innovations from McDonald’s said the fast food giant is heartened by the warm support received from customers since it reopened, and is also thankful for the cooperation from many of its customers who have been patient and respectful of the safe distancing measures.

McDonald’s is easily one of the most well-loved brands in Singapore. Over the years, the brand has accumulated brand love and support through its new products and marketing activations such as the launch of the Hello Kitty collectibles, seasonal menus and even a night loungewear set. According to Yap, through the years, McDonald’s Singapore has been more than just a restaurant for its customers.

As customers grow with the brand and lifestyles evolve, the fast food giant too continued to innovate with brand leadership moves in the industry. These include the introduction of 24 hours McDelivery, for round-the-clock convenience as well as a digital dining experience for the Millennials. Yap too acknowledged the support and excitement towards its menu items. She candidly shared how Singapore has come to enjoy the McGriddles, Scrambled Egg Burger, Spicy McNuggets, McSpicy, Prosperity and Samurai burgers, and even its recent dessert items Chocolate Pie and Hershey’s soft serve. “Our restaurants are also refreshed every few years to create a welcoming and enjoyable place that our customers have come to call ‘home’. Our customers know we will always try our best to be there for them, no matter the circumstances such as the ongoing pandemic,” she added. To Yap, McDonald’s Singapore in the business of delivering "delicious, feel-good moments for customers" – and it starts with quality, great-tasting food; and fast, friendly service.

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At the end of the day, it's great to see that love was not lost for the brand which took a hiatus from being part of the everyday conversation during its closure. In a conversation with Marketing, former P&G marketer Dominique Touchaud said that while he still thinks it is risky to put a pause on advertising spend in a crisis, it hasn't hurt McDonald’s. 

According to Touchaud, who now runs his own firm SHOKUNIN, this could be because McDonald’s already has a very high awareness, and the time frame of its closure was not significantly long - although it might have felt otherwise for many McNuggets lovers. Moreover, with many consumers spending more time devouring online content, it was easy for them not to miss Mcdonald's content while catching up with Netflix and the likes.

Behavioural sciences have revealed that it takes 21 days to forge a habit, and longer to change or suppress an acquired one. Hence, as soon as the restaurants re-opened, the community of McDonald’s fans went all out to get their hands on the products and even posted triumphant pictures of empty boxes. “The loyal users obviously did not hold any grudge to McDonald’s for closing when other fast food outlets kept serving them and things seemed to have resumed exactly where we left them,” he said.

According to Touchaud, this proves that brand love comes from utility, more than a sentiment or an image. Its foundation is what the brand does for its consumers and users. “In the case of Mcdonald’s, the taste of its products seem to be uniquely satisfying for those who missed it and could not find a substitute or did not even try, he said, adding:

To create that bond, brands have to make themselves indispensable.

Meanwhile, Dominic Mason, managing director, SEA at Sedgwick Richardson was of the view that ‘fast, cheap and good’ are a familiar set of consideration criteria’ or ‘brand preference drivers’ for most consumers. “For us pragmatic Singaporean consumers, these three simple ‘vows’ form the foundation of an enduring brand romance: Daily rituals fulfilled faithfully and without question,” he said, adding:

McDonald’s has always nailed the first two. As an iconic and ubiquitous QSR brand it had to.

According to Mason, it soul-searched the third of these three ‘holy’ vows in recent years when nutrition and healthy eating became a barrier to or an enabler for brand loyalty. He added that the fast food giant also claimed to have got it ‘right’ with its ‘I’m loving it’ proposition. In addition, as a pioneer in home delivery, well before the service became the expected norm that it is today in Singapore, McDonald’s showed up on doorsteps, on demand and (mostly) on time. As such, what is there not to love about that level of branded loyalty in unpredictable times, Mason added.   

“Brand love is earned over time. It is proactive, faithful, listening even apologetic (at times) but always there, on demand, 24/7. ‘Fast, cheap and good’ might not be all the qualities we look for in a soul-mate, but they are shifting tons of burgers in Singapore every day,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Digimind's statistics too support the outpour of love from foodies in Singapore. Public online mentions around the fast food restaurant peaked at 2,512 posts on 11 May, one day after its reopening was announced on social media. Mentions on 10 and 11 May alone was approximately three times the total number of mentions the week before, reflecting Singaporeans’ anticipation and eagerness. Online sentiment towards McDonald’s from 8 - 12 May was largely positive, at 75% (14% higher than the previous period).

conversation mcd

While the majority of Singaporeans vocalised their desire or intent to order from McDonald’s, the quintessential “kiasuism” was also the focus of some discussions. On on the other end, brands such as Circles.Life, Klook, and Seedly were quick to leverage the McDonald’s hype, posting content that referenced its opening in order to engage followers on Facebook.

Stephen Dale, general manager APAC, Digimind too agreed that McDonald’s is a well-known and beloved brand among Singaporeans, and the explosion of anticipation about its reopening on social media is testament to that. Like most, if not all F&B brands, McDonald’s is faced with an unprecedented menu of new consumption behaviours and logistical challenges as a result of COVID-19. Due to stay home measures, at-home consumption and demand for takeaways and home deliveries increased during this period.

"Thus it’s important to digest and act on both short and long-term changes in consumer behaviors and concerns, to navigate this 'new normal'. Proactively monitoring hot spots in consumer preferences and concerns, is essential to enabling companies to continue delivering standout customer experiences amid new circumstances. Transparency and communications on health and safety measures and food handling will also be crucial in helping McDonald’s sustain confidence among customers in light of their previous closure following COVID-19 cases among their employees, and keeping them and delivery riders safe during this period," he added. 

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