McDonald's rocked the ad industry with its recent decision to shake up its US agency model by awarding lead creative duties to independent shop Wieden and Kennedy, ending an exclusive relationship with holding company giant Omnicom.
The move came three years after the fast-food chain consolidated its nearly $1 billion stateside marketing account with Omnicom, which presented We Are Unlimited, its new unit dedicated to McDonald's business, as the "agency of the future."
Internal documents obtained by Business Insider, as well as conversations with sources who were close to the agency before, during, and after the pitch, show how Omnicom won the business.
The review focused on transforming McDonald's marketing by integrating digital and data
According to a source familiar with the pitch, the new model stemmed from then-new McDonald's CMO Deborah Wahl's desire to fully integrate digital and data into the rest of the chain's marketing operations for the first time.
McDonald's primary goal was not to save money but achieve more consistent messaging and control over the entire consumer journey using data from McDonald's customers.
The scale of the chain's business in its largest region made this particularly challenging, but the source said McDonald's updated its internal marketing and production processes to support the new agency model.
For example, executives at McDonald's interviewed team leaders at multiple holding companies to identify potential workflow problems ahead of the pitch and designed the RFP to overcome the issues they identified.
In terms of why Omnicom beat out rivals WPP and Publicis, the source said Omnicom's team was truly integrated across strategy, creative concepting, production, and media planning and buying, while Publicis simply mashed together the services of lead creative shop Leo Burnett with "digital business transformation partner" Publicis Sapient.
Omnicom positioned its new "flex model," which focused heavily on insights from social media, as unique despite similarities to other agencies
The second source said the Omnicom pitch focused heavily on its ability to respond in near-real-time to sentiments people shared about McDonald's on social media by creating a set of scheduled posts each day in response to data gathered the previous day. By noon, the agency would have content ready for McDonald's to send out across its social channels.
The internal documents reflect this winning approach, which Omnicom-owned We Are Unlimited and its parent company, Omnicom agency DDB Worldwide, dubbed the "Flex model."
Omnicom called the unit dedicated to McDonald's "Cortex," describing it as "a data-informed view of customers [created] by gathering insights in real-time from experts across digital, social, retail, behavior."
The holding company quickly adapted the model to pitch other clients, including Heineken, State Farm, Volkswagen, and the US Army. The deck demonstrates how DDB positioned the offering as unique within the industry — even while acknowledging its similarity to the approaches of rival agencies like GroupM, J. Walter Thompson, and R/GA.
Deborah Wahl left McDonald's in April 2017, less than six months after We Are Unlimited officially launched, and became Cadillac's CMO in March 2018.
Wahl did not respond to a request for comment, nor did representatives for McDonald's and DDB.
These two documents show how Omnicom would structure its McDonald's team
Later materials show how the same approach could be applied to other clients