We Are Unlimited’s agency model sets a winning tradition

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"The Flip" for McDonald's

“The Flip” for McDonald’s

With seven Cannes Lions,
six D&AD Pencils,
three national Addys,
and dozens of other awards,
it’s safe to say that
the all-in-one approach
is working.

 
Since becoming agency of record for McDonald’s eighteen months ago, We Are Unlimited has left celebrities speechless and flipped the brand’s famous logo upside-down.

The ideas were hatched after a well-publicized intention to go about things differently: build a brand new shop with all the marketing disciplines under the same roof. An Omnicom agency, We Are Unlimited is dedicated to McDonald’s and services all the iconic restaurant brand’s marketing needs.

On paper, the plan makes sense. In reality, it can be challenging. Graphic designers who tweak tiny details on print layouts have to share space with creative teams that think out loud. Broadcast producers who deal with lights, cameras, and action not only have to understand but also respect the value that their retail, environmental, promotional, and experiential counterparts offer to the agency.

Toygar Bazarkaya
Toygar Bazarkaya

But after winning seven Cannes Lions, half-a-dozen D&AD Pencils, three national Addys, and dozens of additional awards, it’s safe to say that the all-in-one deal is working. We Are Unlimited functions as a unified, creative organism.

“This is the first agency where the open floor plan actually makes sense,” says Toygar Bazarkaya, We Are Unlimited’s Chief Creative Officer. “When you work together and you really get to know each other and you got each other’s back … it gives you so much confidence.”

Chief Executive Officer Mark Mulhern concurs. “Any snobbery that used to come from the traditional (agency) world doesn’t exist,” he says. “People who do any one of those individual jobs are dying to be a part of that overall effort.”

Both agency leaders both grew up with McDonald’s in the European hometowns of their youth. Bazarkaya used to visit the restaurant after soccer practice in Germany. Mulhern remembers it from Ireland. Their respect for the brand and the tradition it represents is overwhelming.

Mark Mulhern
Mark Mulhern

“If you’re going to work for just one account, McDonald’s is a great one,” says Mulhern. “It’s such a responsibility that we feel.”

Adds Bazarkaya, “you just ask around in Europe — ‘what’s your first McDonald’s experience?’ — and peoples’ eyes light up.”

Although they brought decades of experience from prestigious NYC shops to work on the account in Chicago, the initial reality of McDonald’s struck them with awe.

“There’s nothing that quite prepares you for the scale and the speed,” explains Mulhern, who describes the agency’s responsibility for the restaurant as “surround sound.”

“There are 26 million people engaging with this brand every day,” he continues. “Our job is to write the playbook, very consciously making sure an idea can go from the first time people see it in a YouTube masthead to experiencing it in the restaurant.”

Bazarkaya agrees. “(By) touch(ing) every touch point,” he says, “We Are Unlimited can create an unapologetic embrace of the brand.”

Both agree that one of the best ways to sell McDonald’s is through its hamburgers. When the restaurant upgraded its Quarter Pounder with Cheese to 100% beef served fresh off the grill, they created a way to let the sandwich do the talking.

 
Hot off the Grill / Speechless
The heart of McDonald’s integrated Speechless campaign features Charles Barkley, Luis Fonsi, John Goodman and Gabrielle Union providing the words for people supposedly rendered speechless by the taste of the new patties.

The idea was hatched when Bazarkaya and his team filmed the burger’s effect on those who ate it during consumer research.

“We just saw so many people biting and just kind of grunting, which is probably the biggest compliment to any burger,” he says. “There was one video of a person eating and not being able to talk.”

Pretty much everyone who reviewed the footage was familiar with the sensation, so they decided to let the visuals tell the whole story.

“We just focused and made it speechless because, when you eat it, there is a reaction like that,” he explains. “Your eyes open up. You’re kind of shocked. You can’t really articulate.”

The agency worked together with Google to create videos with closed captioning that “describe(s) what you don’t hear,” he continues.

 
SPEECHLESS THOUGHTS WITH CHARLES BARKLEY

 

“We were toying around with a couple of ways to execute, and we said, ‘you know what — let’s go all-in,’” he remembers. “This is one of the times where celebrities were really very purposeful.”

The agency sought “relatable” public figures who shared a “genuine love for the brand.” In light of the spots’ popularity, they got the right ones.

 
The Flip
For The Flip campaign, We Are Unlimited turned the famous Golden Arches of one hundred female-owned McDonald’s stores upside-down on International Women’s Day.

The idea is simple and clever: an “M” standing on its head is a “W.” The “W” stands for “women.” Boom. Done. As perfect as a marketing campaign can be. But unpeeling layers of the concept and execution reveal a risky and complicated maneuver.

When We Are Unlimited presented the idea of rotating the Golden Arches 180 degrees, it made an immediate and positive response.

“Everybody loved it in the room,” Bazarkaya recalls. “But it became, ‘can we touch the logo?’”

Indeed. The fifty-year-old logo represents one of the most recognizable symbols on earth. It doesn’t get any more sacred than that. But at the same time, McDonald’s didn’t grow to be so successful without understanding when to take risks.

Mulhern credits McDonald’s U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley and V.P. of brand content and engagement Kenny Mitchel for helping to turn The Flip into reality.

“(They) have been the most awesome creative partners,” he says. “You can have all the proactive and bold ideas you like; but if you don’t have a creative partner, you got nothing.”

In many ways, the campaign merely highlighted a commitment to women that McDonald’s has practiced for decades. The team at We Are Unlimited noticed it during meetings with the owner operators, where the attendees included an abundance of females.

In Toygar’s words, celebrating Women’s Day with The Flip was “a long time coming” for the restaurant. “At McDonald’s, 60% of all managers in the U.S. are female,” he explains. “You can’t do that overnight.”

 
MCDONALD’S INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

 

When McDonald’s signed on to the concept, We Are Unlimited faced a whole new set of challenges. Replacing all the printed materials at one hundred of their stores required extensive knowledge of retail marketing and package design.

Spreading the word about the campaign required a crack social media and PR team. Fortunately for Bazarkaya and Mulhern, all of this expertise was just a short walk down the hall.

The agency also created a short video about Patricia Williams, who has opened 18 McDonald’s and raised two daughters — largely as a single mother — since she purchased her first restaurant in 1987. It ends with a twilight shot of the giant, illuminated, upside-down Golden Arches soaring into the air at one of her stores.

When national media outlets including USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Today Show picked up the story, The Flip lit up websites, smart phones, and television screens around the world.

“From an execution point of view, it was creative excellence,” says Bazarkaya. “You could not have done this in any other place but this agency.”

 
Send your agency updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, dan@reelchicago.com.

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