McDonald's SMS Campaign In Stealth... Or Just Poorly Done?
By Mike Masnick, Sat May 14 00:15:00 GMT 2005

If you never thought you'd hear about McDonald's under-hyping a promotional contest, you might be surprised to find out that it's barely promoting a new contest. However, that might be due to other issues with the campaign.

McDonald's doesn't have a reputation for doing much quietly. Almost every campaign they do involves a ton of advertisements and filling up its franchises with posters, cardboard cutouts and all sorts of other promotional material to get people to buy into whatever it is the fast-food joint is selling. With that in mind, it may be a bit surprising to find out from one observer that McDonald's seems to have hidden its latest campaign involving SMS messages.

Julie Ask, a market researcher, found out about the campaign "through the grapevine," and since she's researching that market, she went to check it out. The McDonald's she went to didn't seem to have any promotional materials about it at all. She took a chance and bought a burger, which happened to have the details on the little box the burger came in. The box explained that she needed to text message her birthday to a certain number, which she did -- only to get back no response.

Obviously, it's possible that this particular franchise was doing a poor job of marketing the campaign. It's also possible that she missed other offline ads for the contest, seeing as she wasn't part of the target market (basketball-obsessed youths). In fact, on the McDonald's web site, the campaign appears to be pretty well promoted. However, it still seems a bit strange -- but there could be other reasons why.

There were plenty of problems with this particular campaign beyond the lack of advertising. Apparently, only the first 300,000 entries counted, but there was no way to inform customers when 300,000 entries had been submitted. Perhaps that's why the McDonald's in question took down promotional material -- knowing that entries no longer mattered. Most important, though, was the lack of any confirmation from McDonald's about whether or not the entry was received. It also wasn't clear, apparently, if the contest would work with SMS messages from all mobile operators or just specific ones.

These days, it seems like plenty of marketers targeting the youth market are looking for ways to build mobile messaging into promotions. While most are figuring out that spamming is a bad idea, that doesn't mean they've thought through the rest of the details. Too many campaigns are done with silly limitations that may make sense on the back end -- but which make no sense to the people actually targeted by the campaign. Mobile marketing has to include more than just a normal campaign plus some sort of SMS component. The mobile piece has to be well thought out, integrated into the campaign, compelling to use and not confusing to participants. Eventually, marketers will get there, but it looks like some are still figuring this out.