Does Relentless Advertising Work?

One answer to this question comes from a study conducted a few years ago by the Stanford University School of Medicine and Packard Children’s Hospital. According to, kids 3 to 5 years old were fed two sets of identical foods — some in McDonald’s wrappers and some wrapped in plain paper.

They overwhelmingly preferred the stuff when it came with a Mickey-D’s logo.

“Each child was given chicken nuggets, a hamburger and french fries from McDonald’s, and baby carrots and milk from the grocery store… With one exception, significantly more children said the McDonald’s-labeled product tasted better.”

McDonald’s spends an enormous amount of money to advertise to children, and apparently they have purchased brand loyalty beginning at a very early age. If you’ve ever driven past a McDonald’s at lunchtime with a car full of kids, you’ve seen brand loyalty translate into sales.

McDonald’s has enough money to be seen and heard just about everywhere; the rest of us have to be more selective in choosing market segments and media opportunities we can afford to dominate. But even without a huge marketing budget, you can still follow the basic principles that have kept McDonald’s at the top of their category:

1. Have a consistent theme and spokesperson — the Golden Arches logo has been there forever, and Ronald McDonald has been a significant part of the marketing effort for decades.

2. Establish a long-term plan, and stick with it. The most successful markets map out a year at a time, and they don’t cancel their ads after a bad weekend.

3. Make an offer. A small portion of McDonald’s advertising is for image, but most of it gives the target consumer a specific benefit — a coupon, a new product, a movie tie-in — for doing business with them today.

It takes careful planning, patience, and money to establish a dominant position in your market. And attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been. But the basic techniques for gaining the consumer’s attention, interest, desire, and action haven’t changed.


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