Leo Burnett Manila and McDonald’s Enter the Gaming Multiverse

Leo Burnett Manila launched an ‘Unbranded Menu’ campaign for McDonald’s, challenging gamers to hunt for McDonald’s ‘food-alikes’ and tag their virtual discoveries under the #ThisIsMcDonalds hashtag in exchange for actual McDonald’s menu items.

Leo Burnett Manila partnered with McDonald’s to engage gamers in the Philippines in a playful and non-traditional way for the “Unbranded Menu” campaign, leveraging the #ThisIsMcDonalds hashtag to encourage virtual discoveries. 

After all, there is so much unbranded food in the gaming multiverse that looks just like McDonald’s products. By hunting for McDonald’s ‘food-alikes,’ gamers can earn McDonald’s items IRL! 

We connected with Raoul Panes, Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Philippines, to talk about how the creative team was able to break into the gaming multiverse and drive brand affinity for an iconic brand in an emerging space.   

What was the rationale behind pitching the “Unbranded Menu” gaming challenge to increase McDonald’s presence in the Philippines?  

Gaming is huge in the Philippines, with over 40 million gamers ranging from casual gamers to pro-esports players. Many of these gamers are McDonald’s consumers, as the brand has been a sponsor of some major gaming events. McDonald’s has seen their influence in the gaming market from more traditional advertising approaches but given budget constraints and a focus on local advertising opportunities, we needed to find a creative means to engage this target audience.  

What is unique about the gaming multiverse versus other advertising environments?  

There’s a very strong sense of ownership in the gaming space as it’s a tight community. So, there’s a lot of gatekeeping. You don’t see much of that in other spaces. Clumsy branding or sponsorship often get backlash since gamers generally want to keep their multiverse free of distractions. 

How would you characterize consumers’ response to this campaign so far?  

The campaign got gamers very excited! It put the spotlight on what every gamer has seen in the virtual world. Who hasn’t stumbled upon a burger or fries that look so much like McDonald’s while on a hunt or conquering levels in a game?  

And because top gamers were talking about it, the word spread faster. It’s an idea so simple that other markets can execute this in their own gaming communities to fuel excitement around the brand.  

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced to sustain interest in the virtual hunt for McDonald’s look-alike products, and how did you address it?  

Gamers can flock to what’s current but can leave it just as fast. We made the execution very simple and easy for them. Gamers love to screengrab moments in their gameplay—so we latched onto that. Screengrab the food and append #ThisIsMcDonalds. It’s that easy! 

We also didn’t make a big announcement from the brand. The campaign launched organically with the country’s top gaming personality announcing her find. We then spread out the engagement across several days with gaming influencers who each had thousands to millions of followers.  

Our team responded in real time to the screengrabs with bespoke responses that gave participants access to real McDonald’s food. Aside from getting McDonald’s food delivered, lucky participants got gaming vouchers, consoles, and even gaming chairs.  

In launching a campaign specifically for gamers, did you then find its cultural impact also extended into the “real world” and beyond gaming specifically?  

Food and gaming have always gone together. Finding virtual food in a game and getting the real product soon after, via McDelivery, made it a fun experience for gamers. As they showed off their grub in their social feeds, we got more traction from non-gamers—fueling a craving for McDonald’s food.  

McDelivery sales logged a 35% increase during the campaign period, showing the incredible impact this virtual campaign had in real life.  

What was one of the biggest learnings from leveraging this unbranded virtual content to promote the McDonald’s brand in a non-traditional way?  

Not just any brand could have pulled this campaign off. It was helpful that McDonald’s had so much brand love and recognition established, even in the virtual video game space. Unbranded items from its menu are instantly, universally recognisable in a way that other brands simply aren’t. This idea really just relied on its simplicity. You don’t need to employ new, fancy tech to get into the gaming multiverse, nor spend a fortune.  

It was about staking our claim on virtual food that’s already exists in so many gaming titles—and the McDonald’s creative team did this well. The gamers in our team saw the huge potential in this environment. So, it really paid to be immersed in this space to see all the creative possibilities.  

What do you think is next for advertising in the multiverse? What do you think could be possible in the future?  

The virtual world continues to close the gap with the real world. Look at how real some games have become. Deepfakes are also blurring the line with reality. And who knows what’s next?  

Tech can be scary and exhilarating at the same time. Brands will continue to market in these environments, trying to be as embedded as possible. Most will go with the flow and choose from options laid out to them. The smarter brands will find ways to be creative and stand out. And these inventive ways, by their very nature, will be hard to predict. But we look forward to seeing what’s next for advertising in the multiverse—the opportunities are truly limitless.