McDonald’s Dark Marketing



McDonald’s fast food chains have always been places for kids. Its colorful restaurants have always been like a paradise for children. This fun is even symbolized by its clown mascot, Ronald McDonald. But in its efforts to strengthen its brand further, McDonald’s tried an alternative platform for brand promotion. It wanted to reach out to the hipsters demographic who are usually disinterested with any advertisement campaigns. Their strategy for this purpose: dark marketing.

Dark marketing does not involve demonic messages in order to reach the youth. It is described as a very discreet online and real world campaign that indirectly promotes the brand through creative means. For this purpose, McDonald’s sponsored a game called the Lost Ring.

The Lost Ring

The group AKQA developed the creative project called the Lost Ring. This was an alternate reality game (ARG) whose target is to extend and reach out to consumers who resist traditional means of brand exposure.

The Lost Ring is an online adventure and critical thinking. It engaged video gamers and bloggers to find clues in order to unlock various interconnected mysteries. To make the chase more exhilarating, the game crossed boundaries between the real world and its digital counterpart. The game became a huge success to various people across the world.

The important aspect of this dark marketing campaign is that McDonald’s kept its presence in the background. There were only enough reminders that it was indeed a McDonald’s activity such as the discreet placement of the famous yellow logo. Other than that, McDonald’s took a back seat to the participants.

Effects of the Dark Marketing Campaign

Since McDonald’s did not directly promote or advertise its products and brand in this campaign, the return on investment may not be that noticeable as far as food sales are concerned. But that is not the purpose of this dark marketing campaign. Its aim is to introduce an interesting brand to segments of society that reject traditional means of advertising.

Instead, the Lost Ring brought a different kind of success for McDonald’s. It lent a level of accessibility and coolness to the McDonald’s brand. Moreover, the game generated interest among major media outlets, giving McDonald’s free media mileage and brand exposure.

Trusted news groups such as Brandweek and The New York Times praised the Lost Ring initiative of McDonald’s because of its alternative means. This media coverage likely generated positive impressions and perceptions for consumers who read and tune in to print and television.

Because of the extensive clues produced by the Lost Ring game, some of its participants even created wiki sites to process all this information. It also sparked extensive Twitter conversations and created devoted forums online. In Flickr, more than 2,000 photos were tagged with the category “lostring” or “thelostring.” It also generated hundreds of related YouTube video uploads. The buzz created by the game bounced off a positive impact on the McDonald’s brand.

Details of the Lost Ring Project

What is it with the Lost Ring game that made it a rousing success for McDonald’s? The Lost Ring centered on a lost Olympic athlete named Ariadne who belongs from a parallel universe. Users were then invited to recover ancient Olympic secrets throughout the game.

To reach users from all over the globe, the game was made available in multiple languages. It engaged gamers to find 27 artifacts and three ancient secrets. Creations, connections and influences were also scattered all throughout the game and people have to make sense of it. The quests involved labyrinth runs, global inscriptions as well as more details about the sixth ring and the Beijing Olympics.

All throughout the game, McDonald’s was just a silent observer and did not overtly promote its products. There was no need anyway because people know what McDonald’s is all about. The Lost Ring was just about providing a different experience for users. Overall, this dark marketing campaign was a risk worth taking.



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