My Day with the CMO of McDonald’s Canada

This blog post is going to be a little (ok, a lot) longer than usual, but I would really like to talk about this past Tuesday, one of the most surreal and rewarding days of my life, and I think it has been an experience that is definitely share-worthy.

Around a month ago, I was suddenly noticing these highly attention-grabbing ads of McDonald’s Canada during my commutes in and around downtown, Vancouver.  These ads were eye-catching in a visual sense but the content was also very different than what you normally see with fast food ads.  I went home and did my research, and the ads turned out to be a part of a huge marketing campaign McDonald’s Canada has rolled out this year.  I was quite impressed and drawn to this new intiative that I decided to write a blog post about the campaign.  I got a couple comments and some positive feedback on my post when I shared it on my social networks but…

…I thought that was that.

3 days later, while I was in the middle of a group meeting and was checking my email, I received a notification letting me know Joel Yashinsky has left a comment on my blog.  It took a couple minutes for me to understand what was going on.  I read the comment, thought about it for a couple more minutes, then looked up at my group and said, “…I think the CMO of McDonald’s just read my blog post!

surprised babyAt first I wasn’t sure if this was actually happening, as I would be quite disheartened if some cruel being was playing a prank on me.  However, I contacted the email left with the comment, and it turned out to actually be Joel Yashinsky, the CMO of McDonald’s Canada!  I was truly honoured that he not only became aware of my blog post and read it, but he was actually impressed with what I have written.  Satisfied with all I have achieved with the blog post…

…I thought that was that.

But turns out, Joel said he would be coming to Vancouver in November on a business trip, and there may be a possibility for him to come talk to my eMarketing class at UBC!  The next few weeks, through email exchanges between me, McDonald’s with Joel, and also Sauder UBC with Paul Cubbon (professor of my eMarketing course), we arranged for Joel to come speak at UBC the first day he will be in Vancouver!

Joel arrived in Vancouver this past Tuesday, and I was really nervous when I was preparing to meet him.  Joel was amazing from the start though, I guess everyone has an initial mindset that executives of giant corporations might be intimidating or unapproachable, but Joel was truly genuine and down to earth during our conversations, and it made it a lot easier for me to talk to him being my true self.

Having Joel present to the class about McDonald’s Canada’s “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign was eye-opening.  I was able to learn the in and outs of the campaign, and the presentation also gave me a candid look at what it’ll be like planning out an innovative, digital, marketing campaign for a large corporation.  I was also able to connect many details I learned in my eMarketing course to the campaign, and it felt good to know actual, applicable learning was being processed in my brain (as things often have a hard time processing in my head at school…).

Details of the “Our Food. Your Questions” Initiative

our food your questions

  • To clarify from my previous blog post, I realized the #McDstories campaign was actually done by McDonald’s US not McDonald’s Canada (Side Note: Yes, it was a move to increase online engagement, I still don’t know how they didn’t predict disaster coming!)
  • This campaign and its online platform were planned and executed together by McDonald’s and their partnership with the reputable global digital agency, Tribal DDB.  Tribal DDB had a large impact in this campaign, as they were the ones that pushed McDonald’s to the next level of innovation with campaign ideas and strategies. (Side Note:Joel also pointed out that my original blog post was actually picked up by the managing director at Tribal, and he was the one that notified Joel of the post!)
    Tribal DDB & McDonald's
  • The traditional approach for McDonald’s was to target “lovers” of the brand with enticing products, but McDonald’s realized there is a market of “fence-sitters” to target, they are the ones that are open to McDonald’s but are unsure of the quality of the food.
  • Engagement was needed.  McDonald’s cannot communicate with customers if they are only using their traditional approach of “telling customers” about products.
  • The only way in the modern world for people to listen to McDonald’s is if McDonald’s listens to them first.
  • McDonald’s needed to undertake some brand action before brand advertising.  With the help from Tribal DDB, McDonald’s came up with the “Our Food. Your Questions” online platform that is real, organic, and transparent.
  • Joel admitted it was hard for the business at first to be so vulnerable and exposed to the public, but the company knew this had to be done to ensure growth.

Our Food. Your Questions

1) A dozen computers were set up with copywriters and professionals in the writing industry manning every computer, they spent the whole day writing answers that are honest, informative, clear, and interesting.
2) All departments at McDonald’s are involved.  Every single question asked would go to the right people working for McDonald’s to be answered (e.g. questions about beef used would go all the way back to the suppliers at Cargill to get the accurate answer).
3) The process: Ask –> Answer –> Amplify
4) To “amplify” online, McDonald’s enabled questions and answers to be shared and followed on multiple platforms (mobile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube).
5) YouTube videos were made to show even more specific answers for some of the popular questions asked, and this helped the campaign to go viral globally (Examples:
Why does McDonald’s foods look different in real-life and in ads?, What’s in the Big Mac sauce? , Does McDonald’s use real potatoes in fries?)

6) A mix of online and offline, new and traditional advertisements were carried out to promote this new campaign.
7) Although the majority of the campaign has been carried out, the webpage will be indefinitely ongoing, always answering new questions.

Our Food Your Questions

Most Popular Questions

No, there is no pink slime in McDonald’s meats
Yes, McDonald’s food rots just like any other food
Yes, burgers are made with real beef (and not real “cow”)
Yes, fries are made of real potatoes
Yes, breakfast items are made with real eggs
Yes, all McDonald’s foods are real food
More Qs? Go here, browse on endlessly or ask your own question
And from Joel personally: Yes, he eats McDonald’s, all employees do, and they have a McDonald’s at the office.  Yes, there’s also a gym at the office.

beef not cow

Results(what I managed to jot down from the presentation):

* To date, there has been 1.6 million website visits since the start of the campaign
* Over 18,000 questions asked
* An aggregated total of 13 million YouTube video views
* People are averaging almost 5 minutes time spent on McDonald’s Canada’s website per visit
* 600+ media outlets covered the campaign
* A noticeable increase in evangelists of the brand, especially on social media networks where there are now more and more consumers standing up/answering for the brand when comments/questions are made
* Statistically, there is a measurable increase in the improvement of the public’s view of the brand


KEY POINTS = Be bold, tackle issues head on, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, challenge convention, be share-worthy, be fully transparent!

After Joel’s presentation, I had the privilege of having dinner with him to find out more about his career in Marketing and about McDonald’s Canada.  I feel like I’m overusing the word, but the dinner was a surreal experience as well.  I learned a lot about the company, McDonald’s Canada seem to have a really strong business culture and employees are proud to be representatives of the brand.  It was really encouraging for me to see Joel’s genuine passion and true belief in his work.  I also was able to learn more about Tribal DDB, the digital agency that helped out McDonald’s Canada tremendously with this campaign.  Joel had high praising words for the innovative company, and has made Tribal DDB Vancouverconnections for me to learn more about Tribal as well as they are also located in Vancouver.  Joel also took the time to get to know me and my interests and career goals.  I was able to share with him my ideas for McDonald’s on further social media integration and he was actually very interested in what I had to say, which I humbly appreciated.

I know I sound like a total McDonald’s “lover” now.  I guess I might be a little bias from this amazing experience but I got to say, I did grill Joel a little by asking him all the questions I had about McDonald’s and his view on everything to do with McDonald’s and the fast food industry, and he did pass the test!

Social Media

A good start?

On the business side, Joel also genuinely admitted there’s a lot of room for growth in social media utilization at McDonald’s.  I have realized this is pretty much the ongoing truth for all businesses in the world, whether you’re a start-up or a huge global corporation.  Technology and social media are evolving on a day-to-day basis, I mean, I learn something new every hour reading through tech stories from my Twitter feed!  I hope McDonald’s Canada can keep going in the right direction of challenging the norm and becoming more and more innovative with their online marketing and branding.

From what started off as an unknown blog post, turned into an amazing experience of meeting and connecting with the CMO of McDonald’s Canada.  I am so thankful I have made such a great connection with McDonald’s and how it is Joel I have connected with.  I am also very thankful of my eMarketing class and professor Paul Cubbon, the fuel for my learning and motivation to pursue my passion in online marketing.

My last piece of advice to all of you out there, don’t deny the power of online networking, whether it’s through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, etc.
Present your best interesting self out there, get mingling, and you never know what might happen!

CMO of McDonald's Canada & me

Amazing day with Joel Yashinsky!

  1. […] My day with the CMO of McDonald’s Canada (Ariel Lin) […]

  2. Reply Andrew McCartney December 14, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Great post Ariel, sounds like a magical day.
    I look forward to meeting you soon.

  3. […] Image from Apples & Nerds […]

  4. Reply Rob Disner November 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I grew up with Joel. He is a great guy! Very impressed by all he has accomplished.

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