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Evaluating ad effectiveness internationally is a critical challenge, especially if ad creative is measured using different measurement processes in each country. While customers may be consuming a product similarly around the globe, cultural differences often require different advertising strategies in each country. Sometimes one country’s ads are so good, its strategy can be expanded to other countries with less successful creative effectiveness.

For this post, we will measure ad effectiveness internationally for McDonald’s. But first, let’s look at its standing in brand value and revenues:

  • In 2022, McDonald’s had the 6th highest global brand value at $197 billion, a 27% increase over the prior year.
  • Among global Quick Serve Restaurant brands in 2022, McDonald’s $197 billion in brand value compares to Starbucks at $62 billion and KFC at $22 billion.
  • By the end of March 2023, the revenue rate of McDonald’s resulted in almost $6.5 billion, an increase of 13.6% from 2022.
  • McDonald’s is available in more than 120 countries. (Enterprise Apps Consolidation of McDonald’s Global Statistics).

Evaluating Ad Effectiveness Internationally – ABX Methodology

To limit variables and enable clear comparisons of McDonald’s ad effectiveness internationally, we will compare English-language ads across media types in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia. As per the graph below, ABX has measured a substantial number of McDonald’s ads.

All ads have been measured using the identical methodology developed by Advertising Benchmark Index™ (ABX), using its ABX Index™, which is comprised of several of KPIs measured. The ABX Index correlates highly to business outcomes. ABX is a leading ad effectiveness and consumer insights company with the world’s largest global syndicated measurement solution across all media types, countries, competitors, demographic groups and more.

Number of McDonald's ads measured in UK, US and Australia in 2023.

Evaluating Ad Effectiveness Internationally – McDonald’s

McDonald’s did not use the same advertising execution globally, opting for specific messaging in each country.

However, McDonald’s “I’m Lovin It” musical signature (“Ba Da Ba Ba Bah”) from 2003 IS global. Before the creation of this musical signature, McDonald’s stock price was $12/share. In 2024, after 20+ years using the musical theme, McDonald’s stock price is $293/share. While advertising effectiveness is only one component in business outcomes such as stock price and revenues, ABX research has found strong correlations to both.

Here’s how the three countries compare across several media types. The McDonald’s executions in the United Kingdom significantly outperformed those from Australia and the United States. ABX Advertising Benchmark Index shows the highest and lowest ad effectiveness scores for the US, UK and Australia in 2023.

McDonald’s High-Scoring Ads in the UK, US, and AUS

United Kingdom (UK)

 The average Index results for the UK is not due to a few ads scoring extremely high, but because 40% of all executions scored a 115 or higher ABX Index™. In all three countries, the dominant media form is video, either TV or online video. In the UK, video messaging uses a consistent narrative story that emphasizes quality and shows people eating at McDonald’s.

The UK narrative formula appears to assume price is a well-known product feature, and the area of growth is quality assurance. So, several commercials show a group of McDonald’s loyalists together with a McDonald’s skeptic. The loyalists provide a quality story and convert the skeptic.

Here’s an example where office co-workers bring in McDonald’s breakfast. The naysayer is not impressed. The loyalists assure him that McDonald’s uses free range eggs and RSPCA assured pork (RSPCA is the UK version of the ASPCA). With that reassurance, the skeptic grabs a breakfast sandwich and hums the “Ba Da Ba Ba Bah” musical signature.

  • McDonald’s UK “Office Breakfast” (see ad)

McDonald's highest scoring U.K ad featuring a story about office workers bringing high-quality food to a skeptic.

Looking at the key metrics for a total population audience, the spot’s ABX Index™ score of 137 surpasses a category average of 109 in the UK. In large part, this is driven by the Message score, (147) (clear, well delivered), Relevance (148) and Likeability (141). It’s extremely high ABX Gender Equality Index™ for the characters helped impact the Reputation (191). While “Any Action” is high at 145, the highest CTA that makes up that score was Intent to Purchase at 300!

United States (USA)

Both the United States and Australia top ads feature either price-promotions or product-introductions, with or without human characters. Neither ad shows people eating and enjoying the product.

  • McDonald’s USA “Mix & Match Deal” (see ad)

The best for the USA is a promotional spot to buy two items and get the second one for a dollar. The spot’s ABX Index™ of 112 is good, but barely above the Category norm of 109. Brand Awareness, Message, Relevancy and Likability are all considerably above norm, with a remarkably high Purchase Intent of 232 (part of Action).

McDonald’s USA “Mix & Match Deal” scored an ABX Index of 122, the highest them that year.

Australia (AUS)

The best of the best for Australia is a product introductory spot for the new Cheesy Angus menu item. The spot’s ABX Index™ of 122, Reputation and Relevancy are good, but unremarkable in comparison to the UK spots with people and stories.

  • McDonald’s AUS “Cheesy Angus” (see ad)

McDonald’s AUS “Cheesy Angus” is the best from Australia showing a new product launch and using the global signature music.

McDonald’s Low-Scoring Ads in the UK, US, and AUS

Evaluating ad effectiveness internationally for top McDonald’s ads showed key differences in ad strategies in each country. Now, looking at the least effective ads, each shows one key similarity . . . borrowed interest distracting from the product story.

United Kingdom (UK)

McDonald’s ads in the UK had a few misses despite virtually all its ads being moderately or highly effective.  A :15 TV spot with no food shots or people enjoying the food was the least effective. The sole Message focused on delivery via the McDonald’s app from Uber Eats, Just Eat or Deliveroo. Keep in mind that this “poorest spot” scored an ABX Index of 92, it is far from disastrous. Interestingly, it is one of the few McDonald’s video spots anywhere in the world that does not use the musical signature.

  • McDonald’s UK “McDelivery” (see ad)

McDonald’s UK “McDelivery” scored a low 91 since it didn't show anything about people enjoying the food.

United States (USA)

In the US, the lowest-scoring ad is an outdoor billboard trying to convince viewers in Chicago that McDonald’s is great for summer eating. However, the ad does not depict food or enjoyment, and shows only two small McDonald’s logos.

  • McDonald’s USA “Summertime CHI” (see ad)

McDonald’s USA “Summertime CHI” is its lowest-scoring ad in the US - a billboard with no defining purpose and small logos - an ABX Index of 72

Australia (AUS)

In Australia, the poorest performing spot features an online video with music star Cardi B.  ABX research has shown poor results when celebrities are used in advertising when they don’t have a natural fit to the product. In this video, Cardi B. drinks a Coke but does not eat or interact with McDonald’s food.

  • McDonald’s AUS “Cardi B. Meal” (see ad)

McDonald’s “Cardi B. Meal” spot for Australia bombed with an ABX Index of 82, Reputation of 36, Action at 70. The ABX Gender Equality Index also showed that Cardi B. was not presented well, or as a role model.

Of significance to the very low Reputation score for the Cardi B. Meal is the ABX Gender Equality Index™ (GEI™), the global gold standard for gender portrayal. Cardi B.’s overall GEI of 90 is below norm, but components of that score are lower including her Presentation (77) and her example as a Role Model (84).

Evaluating Ad Effectiveness Internationally – Conclusions

  • The key elements that make for a successful ad in one country may, or may not, apply to other countries. For McDonald’s, the best ads show people who are eating and enjoying the product; that have a narrative in which to engage them; and that leverages Brand identifiers such as dominant logos and McDonald’s musical signature.
  • Understand not only what is important to your customer’s purchase, but what is leverageable in the category. In QSR, ads featuring food quality reassurance are few. The most effective McDonald’s ad communicated quality reassurance within a story narrative in the UK and was the highest-scoring in this story.
  • The top ads in the US and AUS scored significantly than those in the UK, likely because they punched typical messages in the QSR Category – price promotion and new menu items – but no story narrative.
  • As you share learnings across countries, it is as important to share what does not work as what does work. The misses are just as likely to have universal negatives as the winners have universal strengths.

Written by Marc Rappin, former CMO of the ARF and Consultant to ABX