Leo Burnett London has been dining at advertising’s top table with its McDonald’s client for more than three decades and continues to reinvent the brand as the world evolves.
In the past year, the agency has cut through the crowded coffee market with a series of ads mimicking the competition to promote its own range; stopped in on TV viewers to plug the brand’s McDelivery service; and hyped up its spicy McNuggets with an amusing influencer-themed approach.
“We’ve been working with McDonald’s now for over 32 years and the trust and respect in the relationship undoubtedly makes the day to day more pleasant and rewarding. It also means we work as partners, rather than client and agency,” says Graham Lakeland, creative director.
Most recently, Leo Burnett launched two ads which seek to distance the brand from its fast food counterparts by comparing the quality of ingredients you’d find in high-end restaurants and supermarkets with those at McDonald’s.
The two spots playfully pose a question to consumers about how they can be sure the ingredients they buy elsewhere are of the same high quality as McDonald’s. The work represents a more confident approach for the brand that has previously sought to defend the quality of its food and bust various myths that surrounded its ingredients.
But what about Leo Burnett’s brand image? Asked about the agency's creative style and how it strives to be perceived, Lakeland says the aim is to be understood by and accessible to all.
“Unashamedly populist is the phrase we use a lot,” explains the creative director. “We want to build brands that are loved, that the public take to their hearts. We’re at our best when we’re making work that engages with and is enjoyed by the public. If you crack this then everything else will follow.”
Naturally, good creative starts with good people and the agency takes pride in valuing its talented staff. But the most important traits you can have is to just be a nice person. “Leo Burnett London (Leo’s) has always been about the people who work for it. Each are talented in their own way of course, but their overriding qualities tend to be that they’re just nice, decent folk. That might seem rather obvious, but it’s a quality we value,” explains Lakeland.
His own approach to fitting into the fold as a creative director is to be as curious as possible with an open minded approach to inspiration. “Everyone works in different ways. Personally, I like to know everything about everything. I want to know all the irrelevant stuff, all the stuff no one normally bothers telling you. It’s why I prefer working as a small close-knit team,” says Lakeland. “When you’re constantly talking, mulling things over, asking questions, that’s when those little gems that no one realises are little gems suddenly pop out.”
In the past year, one of the biggest changes at the company has been Charlie Rudd’s appointment as CEO. But the importance on the people will remain and Leo Burnett will continue to champion self-expression and creative freedom. “I’d like to think we’re pretty good at just letting people be themselves,” he adds. “So as daft as it might sound, I think they can learn who they are and therefore what they’re really passionate about and great at.”
Something he says isn’t so great are personalised ads that prey on internet cookies and historical viewing to sell you something because you previously looked at a certain page or product.
“Those damn ads that follow you all over the internet just because you once made the mistake of looking at a particularly fetching pair of espadrilles… Or to be more precise, the thinking that leads to that kind of marketing,” explains Lakeland on what he’d change about the industry if he had the power to.
“It’s the same thinking that creates hashtags trying to engage us in conversations about our favourite shed colours. None of it gives a monkey’s about actual people, what they want and care about, or quite frankly, the products and brands that the work is for in the first place.”
While it continues to feast on juicy briefs from McDonald’s, Lakeland says anyone who wants to work at his agency would be wise to get in shape first due to the selection of food outlets surrounding the office. “Join a gym. We’re surrounded by fantastic eateries and Leather Lane is just down the road with its equally delicious food stalls,” he jokes.
Back inside the boardroom, Lakeland says the secret ingredient to Leo Burnett’s success is the enjoyment factor: “I think we forget how fun our industry can be,” he concludes. “Even on the toughest of days I probably find myself laughing more than I might expect to. We’re also incredibly lucky to have some very strong client relationships.”
As well as McDonald's, other brands on Leo Burnett's roster include Betfair, ghd, innocent and Kellogg's. See more of its work below and connect with the agency here.