McDonald’s planned an ambitious repositioning ahead of its 20th anniversary in China, including remodeled stores and new menu items. But the company needed a cohesive, national strategy to breathe life into its new positioning, “Make Room for Happiness.” Weber Shandwick conceived an eye-catching campaign, displaying 3D sidewalk graffiti outside McDonald’s restaurants in urban centers nationwide. The campaign generated consumer excitement on a scale not seen since McDonald’s entered the market, receiving a million views on social media sites, half a million video views in one month, and a significant jump in sales of key menu items.

Statement of the Problem / Opportunity

As McDonald’s approached its 20th anniversary in China, the fast food giant recognized that future success in the country would depend on its response to a shifting audience. Since McDonald’s made its domestic debut, quality of life for Chinese consumers has dramatically improved, raising consumers’ expectations of food quality and restaurant service and giving a foothold to new market entrants like Starbucks. China is also one of few places where KFC is the dominant fast food chain.

In response, McDonald’s planned to introduce a new “Make Room for Happiness” brand positioning in China, which would include remodeled restaurants with a more contemporary and comfortable design, premium services such as free WiFi and new menu items like unlimited refills on coffee.

McDonald’s realized that part of its challenge was behind-the-scenes. With the restaurant chain’s corporate structure fragmented among three joint venture partners – each with its own PR manager – there was a very real sense of too many cooks in the kitchen. McDonald’s needed cohesive communications across all 37 markets in China for the campaign to be a success. For the first time, the company partnered with one PR firm to oversee unified, consistent message delivery across the country – Weber Shandwick.


McDonald’s commissioned a study by Oracle Added Value Market Research, which identified China’s rising middle class as extremely busy. Children are encouraged to study constantly, while the promise of a better future urges young adults to push themselves to work harder. These active schedules keep Chinese consumers from enjoying the present. From this, McDonald’s determined that its original “I’m lovin’ it” philosophy would need to be reinterpreted to reach its target audience of 23 to 29-year-old YANKs (Young Adults No Kids) in China. In a rare move, McDonald’s developed a special positioning just for the China market, calling for consumers to take a moment out of their stress-filled lives and “Make Room for Happiness.”

When McDonald’s first entered the market, these YANKs fit McDonald’s Happy Meal profile. But as these early fans grew up, they also outgrew the restaurant. For these successful, white-collar workers, happiness wasn’t about toys, but chatting with friends, communicating with peers and sharing ideas with colleagues – especially online.


The core objectives of the campaign were to drive media coverage that reflected the new “Make Room for Happiness” positioning, establish a new online fan base for the brand and generate increases in sales of new menu items.

Weber Shandwick’s strategy was to capitalize on McDonald’s new-look restaurants and menu items to communicate a substantive cultural shift relatable to YANKS, persuading this audience to make more time for themselves and position McDonald’s as the destination of choice for eating, relaxing and spending time with friends.

The team chose 3D sidewalk graffiti art as the optimal creative activity to bring the “Make Room for Happiness” message to life. Not only would it drive footfall to McDonald’s restaurants, the unusual, eye-catching display would easily spread on Chinese social media, a vital channel for engaging the target demographic.

The team enlisted local celebrities, “happiness ambassador” Ronald McDonald and the company’s senior executives to encourage traditional media engagement, creating vital interplay for the online word-of-mouth campaign. Two types of media outlets were chosen: national mass media to maximize visibility of key messaging, and trendsetting lifestyle media to effectively target McDonald’s primary consumer base.

Rather than a single launch event, the team planned a roadshow to reach China’s largest populations and media hubs – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu. Spread over three months, the campaign would to take root nationwide, gain momentum online, and maximize visibility from December 31, 2009 to March 10, 2010.


The “Make Room for Happiness” roadshow started with the graffiti displayed outside one of McDonald’s flagship restaurants in China, on Beijing’s bustling pedestrian street, Wangfujing (similar to New York’s Times Square). The team collaborated with China’s first 3D graffiti artist to develop the display and create a video featuring a behind-the-scenes look at its creation. The video was used to encourage online viral spread of campaign coverage; the team understood the appeal and authenticity of B-roll footage to the young audience.

The graffiti remained onsite for one week to drive footfall, generate excitement and feed WOM. Social media activity drove consumer interest, and the team led discussions with leading bloggers and on high-traffic Chinese forums, which garnered great attention to the display. As the campaign spread virally, it was quickly clear that this was not just driving in-store traffic but something even more valuable – consumer engagement with the McDonald’s brand.

During this period, the team created online albums ( for consumers to retrieve photos of themselves interacting with the graffiti. With significant traffic and attention online and off, the team took this branded engagement a step further, turning the albums into a competition for the most creative pose against the 3D backdrop.

Each stop also included tailored local activities. By the time the roadshow reached its third stop in Guangzhou, tour dates posted online had created pre-event excitement, and an eager, expectant audience welcomed the tour’s arrival.

Campaign Outcomes / Monitoring and Evaluation

The “Make Room for Happiness” PR campaign resulted in enormous online and offline coverage and generated consumer excitement on a scale not seen since McDonald’s entered the market 20 years ago.

The campaign generated over 700 print, broadcast and online clippings, all demonstrating a shift in audience perception. New messaging remained consistent and front page headlines declared “McDonald’s is now trendy!”

The campaign also established a new online fan base for the brand, as evidenced by the nearly one million page views generated across various key Chinese social media platforms. Additionally, the campaign’s online videos received over half a million hits in just one month, and blogger outreach resulted in more than 450,000 page views on blogs and online forums, which were flooded with comments from enthusiastic consumers.

The “Make Room for Happiness” campaign is known to have had an immediate payoff for McDonald’s, with a near 18% year-on-year sales increase. In particular, coffee sales increased significantly just after the campaign, signaling that the brand had regained customers from competitors like Starbucks, and people were choosing McDonald’s as their coffee destination.

As an additional result of the firm’s coordination, McDonald’s developed a stronger internal system, improving its own PR capabilities. Luan Jianghong, vice president of McDonald’s China, said, “The success of this brand relaunch campaign demonstrated PR's capability to deliver the new brand message but furthermore solidifies PR as a critical pillar in all marketing campaigns.”

McDonald’s has also received major international recognition for this campaign, recently winning the 2011 IPRA Golden World Award for Excellence in PR, Consumer PR for an Existing Service.