Larry Light, BSc'62, first began thinking seriously about what made people tick during his undergraduate studies at McGill, listening to teachers like legendary behavioural psychologist Donald Hebb expound on the mysteries of the human mind.
These days, Light uses his insights into human behaviour to try to convince more people to sink their teeth into a Big Mac or a McGriddle breakfast sandwich.
Light was named last fall as the new executive vice-president and global chief marketing officer for McDonald's, one of the world's best-known companies, but one that had been drawing criticism from business analysts in recent years. "The Golden Arches have gotten flabby following years of complacency," commented Advertising Age when Light was hired. "Mr. Light is taking on the ultimate marketing challenge."
Which is exactly why Light took the job.
"The most interesting thing about McDonald's is the power of its brand," says Light, a former top executive at Bates Advertising and the founder of Arcature, a consulting agency that specialized in building brand appeal.
"McDonald's is among the 10 most valuable brands in the world. It's a huge challenge to make one of the world's most valuable brands even more valuable. It's much easier to take a brand with little value and build it up."
The fast food giant has kicked off its first-ever global marketing campaign and Light is one of its chief architects. He worked with 14 ad agencies in five different countries to devise the campaign. "We realize that not all the creative geniuses are in the U.S."
The campaign, titled "I'm lovin' it," promises to be ubiquitous. The initial TV spots are airing in 10 languages, British music video director James Brown (Spice Girls, Tori Amos) has been travelling the world shooting footage for the ads, and pop star Justin Timberlake will be playing a major role in the campaign.
The campaign isn't just targeting potential customers, says Light. About 1.6 million people work for McDonald's at any given time, but it's usually a temporary gig for students and other part-timers on their way to something else. "Some people would say that's a problem, but I see it as an opportunity," says Light of the high turnover rate.
He is working with his HR department to develop an internal "I'm lovin' it" campaign for McDonald's employees, to convince them to be staunch McDonald's advocates, even once their paycheques originate somewhere else.
"I see 1.6 million people who can become McDonald's brand ambassadors, but 'I'm lovin' it' has to be the output, not the input. We can't just tell them to say it, we want them to believe it."