Magazine article Marketing

Profile: A Role to Relish - Larry Light, Global Chief Marketing Officer, McDonald's

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: A Role to Relish - Larry Light, Global Chief Marketing Officer, McDonald's

Article excerpt

The past few years have been a dark time for a company that had been used to achieving growth seemingly without effort. Consumers have been turning away from McDonald's restaurants, resulting in a profits slide, as the fast-food giant slumped under the weight of negative publicity about the obesity issue.

In January 2003, McDonald's posted its first ever quarterly loss of dollars 348.8m (pounds 186.9m) since going public in 1965. Just ahead of this news, the company parachuted in Larry Light as its global chief marketing officer. Light, tasked with creating a marketing master plan to turn the business around, was a surprising choice. Having spent a large chunk of his career working at ad agencies BBDO Worldwide and Bates Advertising, and most recently running his own consultancy, he had no direct experience of working in a fast-food company.

He admits to being both daunted and intrigued. 'I had never worked on the client side. Before, when sales went up you took the credit and when they were down, you blamed the client for not taking your advice. Now I'm accountable.'

Light acknowledges that McDonald's was complacent: 'The brutal truth is the world changed and we didn't.' He is also critical of how the UK division was spending its supersized pounds 42m ad budget. 'We lost our way.

The UK advertising has been confused and inconsistent, and then inconsistent becomes incoherent.' He is much happier with the way things are now under the new team of chief executive Peter Beresford and chief marketing officer Laurie Morgan. Beresford, he says, has brought 'discipline' and the right 'philosophy' to the business.

Light's big idea was the bold move to introduce a global template under the 'I'm lovin' it' strapline, introducing an older, more urban positioning using Justin Timberlake and Destiny's Child. He has just unveiled the latest step, a global tie-up with MTV to sponsor its Advance Warning emerging music talent show. 'The strategy has been to change the sweet spot of the brand from the child in us to the young adult attitude we aspire to. The young aspire to be older and the old aspire to be younger.'

The strategy appears to be paying off. January's year-on-year European sales are up 5.4%, and globally, McDonald's reported a net income of dollars 2. …

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