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July 30, 2015

The Big Mac Lifestyle: How McDonalds is Marketing To Their Target Audience

There are some brands that are, doubtless, kings in the marketing world.

McDonald’s falls into this category with the brand new rollout of their lifestyle products trying to capitalize on the success of a previous marketing trick done to promote their status as official sponsor of the Swedish Alpine and Cross Country Ski Team.

Although the thermal underwear was a clever bit of marketing (covered in their signature Big Mac), their new line of products seeks to bring the Big Mac over as a fashion statement, covering everything from wallpaper to bedsheets. If you’ve always wanted your clothing emblazoned with fast food, this is your chance to get officially licensed hamburger clothing.

You see, as hilarious as this might seem to the average person, you’d be surprised the kinds of returns that McDonald’s will get on these items.

The reason why might be a bit unclear to many people, since their thinking is, “Why would anyone WANT a Big Mac on their bedsheets?”

(I’m not kidding—that’s what I think. I personally haven’t been to a McDonalds in years now, and am proud of that fact.)

But McDonald’s knows the demographic it’s marketing to, and through that demographic, they will see a lot of profit thanks to their product diversification. There is a market for people who want a Big Mac on everything. That market is McDonald’s consumers.

Building Around Lifestyle: Marketing In the Twenty First Century

Developing products that appeal to a particular demographic is one of the major points of marketing. In order to sell to your audience, you have to know what they like, or to convince them that what they like is what you have. While the latter is how many companies go about making their products attractive, the former is the method which companies that already have an existing platform on another product type can go on to impact other, sometimes unrelated product fields.

Brands Understand the Draw of Lifestyle

Richard Branson, the CEO of Virgin Group is fond of saying, “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all.” Virgin Group is one of those companies that has expanded from its original foothold as an airline company to take up a number of different businesses under its umbrella. What Mr. Branson understands about lifestyle is that it’s not about what a business says it does that makes a difference. Actually making a difference is what Virgin Group has used as one of its marketing tactics. Virgin Group even has a dedicated entrepreneurial, Virgin Unite that seeks to give back to the world community through eradicating what they refer to as “The Big 3”: HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

What does a Lifestyle Brand imply?

Not all brands can pull off the “lifestyle brand” type of marketing. Basically, if a brand tries to focus on being a lifestyle brand, then the products that fall under that brand should seek to promote a certain type of lifestyle. How companies use this to leverage sales comes from the understanding of people’s deepest desires. By making an emotional attachment between what the brand represents and what the user wants, you are able to effectively turn your marketing into sales. Maintaining this bond over the long term guarantees return business from a customer, as well as promoting the lifestyle to his or her friends. Lifestyle marketing is very contagious.

Selling a Feeling

Probably the most common method of lifestyle marketing is selling a particular feeling. Psychologists have said that most emotions that we feel on a daily basis come from a mixture of the four basic emotions of happy, sad, afraid/surprised and angry/disgusted. Using these emotional triggers as a platform for marketing allows us to sell to consumers over a wide spectrum of emotions. Lifestyle is one of those things that is inextricably bound to how a person feels and, therefore, the best way to market a lifestyle is by leveraging feelings such as:

Fun – In the case of a company like Coca Cola, what they sell through their (sometimes unorthodox) marketing schemes is fun. Some time ago, Coke embarked on creating a “Happiness Factory” based inside a fictional vending machine, with a number of small, fun and memorable creatures going through all sorts of hijinks in order to get you the coke that you ordered from your vending machine. From there, we’ve seen the “Share a Coke” campaign as well as the “Find a Friend” campaign (which forced users to interact with each other). Coke excels at playing with its marketing and encouraging its users to introduce a little fun into their lives, because, says Coke, what’s life without a little fun?

Cool – Apple is probably the brand most people think of when they think about selling a lifestyle. Most of Apple’s detractors are quick to point out that their software doesn’t run on many hardware architectures and that their hardware is actually sub-par for the price they charge. But Apple isn’t selling you top-end hardware or software. Apple is selling the idea of being cool, hip and trendy. People buy an Apple product, not because they want performance or care anything about how the parts stack up against its competitors. It’s because they want to show off that they’re cool and if you want to be cool too, you can’t do it without Apple.

Fashionable – Lululemon started off as a marketer of yoga equipment and made it big on the scene with its yoga pants, a must-have for fashionable ladies, even if they’re not into yoga. The yoga pants were comfortable but more importantly, they came with an attached lifestyle. Wearing yoga pants anywhere you go made you seem as though you were one of the elite, able to dress how you wanted and go anywhere without fear of being judged. Lululemon added to this hype by marketing their brand as geared towards women that were somewhat wealthy, relatively thin and fashionable. As Coco Chanel once noted, “Simplicity is the keynote of true elegance”.

How can YOU sell a Lifestyle? Answer These 3 Questions

As we said before, lifestyle marketing isn’t for all types of products or even appeals to all types of users. For lifestyle marketing to work for an average, everyday business, it requires you to market your company or brand along the lines of what you want the public to perceive you as. When you start, don’t aim for the stars. Starting small allows you get a feel for what type of marketing works for you and helps you to gauge what sort of “feeling” you’re trying to sell. Ask yourself these important questions:

  1. What does the brand do for the buyers? – Usually your brand satisfies a need or want. What you want to do is to link that need or want to an emotional response, as seen above. Using your marketing skills you can develop a marketing plan that utilizes the selling points of your product and tie it into the emotional centers of the brain.
  2. Does it Satisfy Desires? – One of the major reasons people buy a particular luxury item is because it satisfies a desire. Finding out what that desire is allows you to leverage it in your marketing and use it to inspire more people to buy from your brand.
  3. Does it help a user’s longing for a different self? Psychologists have realized that many people buy luxury products for two reasons: either because they get some thrill out of buying it, or because of the fear of being left behind. Both of these come back to the idea of using a product to tell something about yourself. Whether or not the statement is true doesn’t come into the equation. How a user sees themselves can help you in selling your product to them.

Lifestyle Marketing: The New Frontier?

Thinking that lifestyle marketing allows you to compete more effectively in the marketplace might be a bit misleading.

The truth of the matter as recent research by the Kellogg School of Management shows, is that lifestyle marketing might actually encourage even fiercer competition in the long run from cross-category competitors. It’s like going to another team’s home court and playing the game there.

They have the advantage and you have to come from behind in order to compete with them on their level. In some cases it can be both expensive and time consuming. The gamble, of course, is completely up to you. As brands like McDonalds have shown, you can come from a position of strength and still do well in a completely unrelated field. Business giants like Amazon and Google prove that entering another field isn’t just worth the effort. If you do it well the reward can be beyond your wildest dreams.

Bringing it All Together

Is lifestyle marketing a good fit for you? That question can only be answered by you. Investigate your brand and your demographic. Is it possible to make it attractive as a lifestyle brand? If so, what other cross-category brands will you be competing against? Ask yourself the hard questions and be honest about the answers. Only after doing so will you be able to truly assess whether your business is ready to take the lifestyle marketing plunge.

The truth can surprise you. I’m pretty sure no one at McDonalds could have predicted that thermal underwear with Big Macs on them would have sold so well.


Julia Spence-McCoy is the CEO of Express Writers, an online copywriting agency that began in 2011 with thousands of web content pages written to date and more than 50 talented writers on the team. Her passion is copywriting and all that pertains, including the ever-changing game of Google algorithm updates.