Updated Nov. 3
Last week, McDonald's (MCD) denied a report, and the extensive, not-exactly-supportive Internet commentary that followed, that it was planning a new advertising campaign based around the phrase "Lovin' Beats Hatin'." But there appears to be some truth to it.
While the company seemingly isn't planning on that specific phrase, it might roll out very similar language for marketing or potentially some other use in the future. The site BurgerBusiness noted over the weekend that McDonald's has filed for trademarks on both "Lovin' > Hatin'" and "Lovin' Is Greater Than Hatin'." These can indeed be found on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with McDonald's listed as the filing company.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources who had knowledge of the situation, had written that McDonald's was only months away from launching ads with the Lovin' Beats Hatin' slogan, joining the familiar "I'm Lovin' It" line that the company has employed for the past few years. The report said the world's largest restaurant chain measured by annual system revenue, at almost $90 billion, would be attempting to "spread happiness in the face of Internet hate" starting Jan. 1 and would also feature a Super Bowl ad.
The Journal's reporting work led to ample follow-ups -- satire site The Onion got in on the action. However, a McDonald's spokeswoman said there were no such plans to use this particular message.
"Lovin' Beats Hatin' (is) incorrect and not a new slogan," Lisa McComb, director of McDonald's media relations, said in an email. Additionally, there were no proposals to use the phrase even informally, such as on social media platforms. McComb said the phrase was never contemplated internally and that the company wouldn't be inclined to "make decisions based on speculative commentary on creative that hasn't been seen."
Again though, the questions had been about "Lovin' Beats Hatin'," specifically, rather than language similar to that.
It wasn't overly difficult to accept the slogan idea, broadly speaking, especially considering the source. In recent months the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company has announced a variety of initiatives that it hopes will reconnect it with consumers. That's included promising healthier menu options, changing Ronald McDonald's image, describing a social responsibility framework and starting an online question-and-answer series about its food. It's also been remodeling stores, reworking its menu to include customization and trying digital advancements such as tablet ordering.
Although McDonald's still has millions of visitors every day to its 35,000 stores around the world, the number of transactions it conducts has been declining, and same-store sales growth has stalled. Profits, while remaining in the billions, have struggled to continue upward. As a result, its shares have been relatively flat in the last couple of years after a rally from 2003 to 2012.
One of the keys for McDonald's to restore its position, in particular in the always competitive restaurant sector, is to draw in the Millennials, says Tony Wright, CEO of Plano, Texas-based digital marketing agency WrightIMC.
"Social media and interconnectivity have made it so that [the Millennial] generation is very much in tune with human rights [and] with how people treat each other, and that is a message that they have clearly sent to corporate America," he says. "That is, we want our brands to take a stand."
Wright believes McDonald's, being not only a giant company, but also a giant advertiser, will be an active participant in "cause marketing" to demonstrate that it wants to be a business with a conscience, reclaiming the narrative from the criticism it sustains for everything from employee pay to ingredients to its supply chain.
"We're seeing a trend in advertising, specifically in social media advertising, that is trying to align brands with making the world a better place," he says. "That Millennial urban audience, every advertiser knows right now, that's the hardest demographic to reach. And you don't reach them by a slogan, you don't reach them by a Super Bowl ad. It's more of a heavy frequency of positive messaging."
Shezad Manjee, founder and creative director at DHD Films in Dallas, a firm that works with corporate clients on marketing, believes that, even with the company's denials about the slogan, there's tremendous insight to be gained.
"This is the biggest focus group you can have," he says. "Your consumers are telling you what's going to work or what's not going to work before you invest tens of millions of dollars. Today, more than ever before, it's important to get the message right. I think the audience is helping you, your consumers are helping you get that message right. They're giving you instant feedback on Facebook and Twitter."