Innovator Insights: McDonald’s Elizabeth Campbell

Innovator Insights: McDonald’s Elizabeth Campbell

Since taking on the elevated role of Senior Director of Marketing, Cultural Engagement (Social Media, Partnerships and Multi-Cultural) at McDonald’s last November, Elizabeth Campbell has spent even more time than usual listening to her consumer.

Leaning on partners like Facebook, Google and Twitter as well as agency of record Wieden & Kennedy and multicultural agencies Borrell Communications (which is focused on African-American consumers), Alma (focused on Hispanic consumers) and IW Group (focused on Asian consumers), Campbell is charged with making sure McDonald’s is playing a positive, earned role in social media conversations. 

“In order for McDonald’s to engage, one of the things we look at is whether it’s an authentic area for us to play in,” said Campbell during a July 8 Virtual Fireside Chat at Brand Innovators’ Multicultural Marketing Summit, moderated by Circus LA’s Managing Director Laura Burniston. “If it doesn’t make sense for our brands, if consumers are saying, ‘McDonald’s, you haven’t earned the right to engage with us in this conversation,’ then we will not move forward. We will take a moment internally with our agencies, our media partners and comms partners so we can look holistically at how we want to show up as a brand together.”

A 16-year veteran of McDonald’s, Campbell discussed the importance of long-term investments in the African-American and Hispanic communities, and why “multicultural” can’t be a monolithic term for marketers as they speak to different audiences. Here are five key takeaways from her interview, edited for length and clarity.

The current racial equality movement isn’t new for brands with a long history of supporting the cause. “The thing about McDonald’s that is unique is we’ve been in business for 65 years, so we have a long history of investing in the communities that we serve,” Campbell said. “So multicultural marketing is not new to us – it’s something we’ve done for years. And examples of that, one of our franchisees started a scholarship program called HACER targeted toward Hispanic high school students for McDonald’s to give money to them and help them go to college. That’s something we’ve been doing for over 30 years as a brand. It goes beyond giving them money for scholarships, what we’ve done is we’ve said ‘How can we help you with the tools so that your counselors know about the scholarships to help you apply?’ And we also make sure we celebrate those students when they win the scholarship. We have another program called Black And Positively Golden targeted to the African American community segment. We have been giving back to the African American community for more than 20 years. The program is about celebrating excellence as consumers start to become entrepreneurs, it’s about celebrating positivity in the economy, just so we can be a better steward and representation of the people who are actually choosing to come to McDonald’s.”

“Multicultural” isn’t a catch-all strategy, it requires unique messaging to different groups. “Because I’m an African-American woman, people will look at me and say, ‘You know every single thing about African-Americans so you need to be the guru,’” Campbell said. “And no, you can’t assume that about me, or anyone just because of their race. I have personal things that I believe, but that may not be the best thing for the brand to believe, or what consumers actually share with me in terms of belief. So what I did was I created my own personal survey and sent it out as a text message to a wide group of individuals who I knew had a pulse on the ground. And I got back some very interesting responses from the younger segment, who came back and said, ‘We don’t understand what you mean by multicultural, don’t call me multicultural. I am a black person, I am a Latinx person, I am an Asian person. And you need to figure out how to identify me that way.’ And that shifted my mind in how we can communicate with them moving forward.”

Black Lives Matter is part of a cultural movement that marketers must understand and weigh in on. With regard to the current social and cultural climate, Campbell and her team are closely observing and weighing in on the conversation as respectfully as possible. “The fact that you have Black Lives Matter becoming not just a big thing in the U.S., but you saw it pop in every place around the world, you could see there was a shift in mindset in terms of how people were behaving,” she said. “In terms of how I would behave or McDonald’s is behaving, we are still trying to listen and learn but not take a passive role in making a difference. There’s so much we have to learn from this, but it’s about how you listen and learn from each other. McDonald’s is looking at how we want to show up in people’s lives and make sure we’re representing them in the best way in the content we’re putting out. 

COVID-19 reminded marketers that focusing on core their audience is more critical than ever. “As marketers we have to remember that we’ve been prepared for this from day one. We’ve all been taught that we all need to lead with the consumer first in mind and make sure we’re being brand stewards with the consumer as the primary thing we’re focused on. And what COVID has forced every single company to do, every single marketer, every single person in business, is to make sure they’re actually leading with the individual in mind they’re looking to service.”

Campbell added that this means marketers must deeply understand the data they are looking at and use it to inform choices — but they also should not rely solely on data. “It starts with making sure you understand the data, but you also need a balance of head and heart. It also means you have to do a better job of listening to the consumers you’re trying to serve. We’re listening to the people who work for our brand because this pandemic has affected all of us in personal ways. If you can have empathy for the people who work for you, that means you can also have empathy for the people you serve.” 

Use your audience’s voices to help shape the future of your brand. “We are having a cultural revolution, and brands are contributing to that by showing up and [understanding] the truth we represent for consumers and how consumers are wanting to be heard. We have the unique ability to share consumers’ voices and shape the future. My advice would be don’t be afraid. Lean into it. Ask questions –  go and seek additional advice from people you might not have sought it from. Admit when you’re wrong and move forward and do the best job that you can. Celebrate when you’re right and have fun with it.”