In an age when consumers’ choices have never been broader, it’s critical to stand out among the sea of other brands and offerings. That may be one reason why companies from practically every industry are spending hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars to develop and execute marketing campaigns that resonate with their target audience, drive sales, and cement brand loyalty for years to come.

And while every brand has a different approach to marketing, there’s a process and a sequence of events that remain the same campaign after campaign: targeting an audience, crafting a message, activating the campaign, and monitoring results.

To see that process in action, we look at four of the largest campaigns to hit the limited-service industry over the last year and break them down step by step, from ideation to execution.

A new face for Ronald McDonald

Companies do it. Celebrities do it. And at quick-service giant McDonald’s, even the mascot does it: rebrand. Aiming to cement his appeal to the ever-important kid demographic while also engaging Millennials, 51-year-old Ronald McDonald underwent a major reimaging process earlier this year, starting with—what else—his wardrobe.

Trading in his classic one-piece jumpsuit for yellow cargo pants, a matching vest, a striped rugby shirt, and, for special occasions, a red blazer, McDonald’s brand ambassador Ronald McDonald was ushered out of the 1960s and into the modern world.

“What I think they’re realizing is that the new generation of kids that have come onto the scene have much more contemporary tastes and don’t want to be seen as children the way children were viewed in the past,” says Michael Goldberg, CEO of Zimmerman, an agency that works with restaurant brands including Papa John’s, Boston Market, and Firehouse Subs.

As is fitting for the new generation of tech-obsessed consumers, Ronald’s rebranding efforts are largely social, with the red-headed clown engaging fans through online portals, including the dedicated website, and social media channels using the hash tag #RonaldMcDonald. It’s all in an attempt to communicate the new mission to prove that “fun makes great things happen,” says David Zlotnik, director of global marketing for McDonald’s.

Ronald’s new mission also involves appealing to consumers in the offline world, with the mascot traveling around the globe to participate in buzz-worthy events and activities that encourage real-life and online engagement with McDonald’s consumers the world over. In June, for example, Ronald visited the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur to create a sledding hill made of real snow for more than 7,500 people. “Many of the residents there had never seen snow before, so Ronald surprised and delighted and engaged people,” Zlotnik says, adding that participants were encouraged to post videos and pictures online with Ronald’s dedicated hash tag.

Ronald also participated heavily in events surrounding the McDonald’s-sponsored 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, from juggling soccer balls on the streets of Rio de Janeiro to working with local artists to create a portrait for a nearby Ronald McDonald House. “We’re trying to do what we can to keep Ronald active and busy in local communities around the world,” Zlotnik says.

Though the revamped Ronald McDonald is certainly active both online and in person, the new and improved ambassador will also be making some marketing pushes on TV and in McDonald’s restaurants later this year. That includes commercials set to launch in the fourth quarter, along with updated imaging on in-store materials and the classic Ronald McDonald benches popular in many units.

While the rebranding campaign is far from over, the burger brand has already received major attention for its reimaging efforts. When news broke in April about Ronald’s new image, it was covered by 800 media outlets and received more than 850 million media impressions, 93 percent of which were either positive or neutral, according to McDonald’s.

Based on these numbers alone, the campaign seems to be paying off handsomely for Ronald and the McDonald’s team—though they’re not ready to stop yet. “We’re not looking at this as a campaign,” Zlotnik says. “This is really a new journey for Ronald to keep him going forever.”

The next breakfast generation

For the past several years, Taco Bell has made a name for itself in the product innovation department, thanks largely to the introduction of its wildly popular Doritos Locos Tacos. But earlier this year, the Mexican quick serve decided to change the game entirely, introducing a national breakfast menu to compete with the likes of the biggest business in the quick-service breakfast game: McDonald’s. And it certainly wasn’t afraid to call out the brand directly—in a big way.

With a mission to enter the breakfast conversation and capture the attention of all quick-service breakfast users, Taco Bell launched the “Real Ronald McDonald” campaign, a commercial that reveals real-life Ronald McDonalds from all around the world trying Taco Bell’s signature breakfast item, the Waffle Taco.

“Any company that wants to unseat McDonald’s or even steal some share in the drive-thru breakfast category has got to use something huge,” says Lori Powers, president of Powers Agency, a creative firm that works with quick-service brands like Penn Station East Coast Subs and Gold Star Chili. “[The campaign] was funny, it was engaging, it was competitive, but I would say truly not in a disparaging sense.”

The Real Ronald McDonald campaign—which launched a second commercial focusing on the brand’s Grilled Breakfast Burritos in July—helped Taco Bell see more than 8.2 billion earned media impressions and more than 8,000 placements around its new breakfast menu, effectively accomplishing the brand’s goal of “disrupting” the breakfast conversation. This media success has also translated into bottom-line boosters, with Taco Bell’s overall sales increasing 3 percent in Q2, the quarter in which it rolled out breakfast.

“There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in breakfast sandwiches in the last decade,” says Taco Bell CMO Chris Brandt. “That’s where we felt we had an opportunity for people who want something a little bit different, who want something a little bit out of the ordinary.”

In addition to the Real Ronald McDonald commercials, Taco Bell released an “Old Guys” ad series featuring a set of cranky old men complaining about Taco Bell’s breakfast innovation. “Breakfast has been the same for so many years,” Brandt says. “We are really the next generation of breakfast.”

Marketing around breakfast won’t stop anytime soon at Taco Bell, with the brand already hard at work finding ways to promote its protein-packed Power Breakfast Menu, which is set to hit stores early next year. “You can’t just be disruptive once,” Brandt says. “You have to be disruptive over and over again.”


From quick service to the big screen

Ask anyone at Pizza Hut, and he or she may say one of the brand’s most recent campaigns has been a long time coming. Playing off a relationship with the cult-classic comic book and TV series “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (tmnt)—a marketing relationship that dates back to the 1980s—Pizza Hut teamed up with Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello once again to celebrate the August release of the new TMNT film and the return of Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites.

“There are few partnerships that come across our desk that are such no-brainers as the one with the TMNT movie,” says Doug Terfehr, Pizza Hut’s director of public relations. “There’s such an energy between the history we have with the franchise and then the connection that can quickly be drawn by doing something with them again, because the Turtles are powered by pizza.”

While the campaign naturally appeals to those consumers who grew up loving the series, Terfehr says, today’s generation of kids is equally as passionate about the returning characters, creating a potential audience that, while expansive, shares a common bond in their excitement over the beloved franchise, its big-screen reincarnation, and Pizza Hut.

Digital marketing was key to the two-month TMNT campaign, with the website undergoing a makeover to feature the turtles, the film, and products created specifically for the popular franchise—products like the Cheesy Bites and a set of four custom pizzas inspired by the personality of each Ninja Turtle. In exchange for their loyalty and business, Pizza Hut fans gained access to exclusive TMNT material, such as early movie trailer releases.

In-store signage and point-of-purchase materials were another heavy supporter for Pizza Hut’s TMNT partnership, and included augmented-reality pizza box toppers that let consumers scan the packaging with their phones to see TMNT trailers, Pizza Hut commercials, and more. “It was very interactive and fun, and just something that hadn’t been experienced much in the pizza category,” Terfehr says.

In perhaps its most out-of-the-box marketing push, Pizza Hut hit the popular Comic-Con convention in San Diego in July, resurrecting the Turtles’ famous Pizza Thrower to a great deal of fan fare.

“We partnered with Paramount to create a life-sized, fully functional, 12-foot-tall, 16-foot-long Pizza Thrower complete with a cannon in which you could fire pizzas,” Terfehr says. “It was an incredible hit and it was an unbelievable project to build this one-of-a-kind thing, and then to see the consumer reaction. … People just thought it was one of the coolest thing they had ever seen.”

To date, Terfehr says, the TMNT campaign has led to the most successful business window for Pizza Hut in 2014. And the best part about the campaign for the pizza chain is that the benefits will just keep coming, thanks to the fact that Pizza Hut products and boxes are used within a TMNT game for Xbox Kinect, as well as in the film itself.

“All of [the turtles’] sofas and chairs were made out of real Pizza Hut pizza boxes,” Terfehr says. “You’ll see that very prominently in the movie.”

Beyond the average ad

Chipotle’s Food With Integrity mission certainly isn’t new. But the way the brand has communicated its sustainable and local approach to food sourcing, on the other hand, has taken an innovative turn over the past several years.

Aiming to capture the hearts, minds, and dollars of its Millennial customers, Chipotle released a short film during the 2012 Grammy Awards called “Back to the Start,” an animated ad that touched on both the dangers of factory farming and the importance of sustainable agriculture. A year later, Chipotle developed “The Scarecrow,” a 3-minute animated film that tells the story of a scarecrow’s fight against the processed foods common in the industry.

This time around, though, Chipotle didn’t stop with an Emmy- and Cannes Lions award–winning film; rather, it created an interactive game of the same name, available for free download on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. In the game, consumers are tasked with everything from freeing confined animals and transporting them to open pastures to planting new crops and delivering farm-fresh food to customers at a local town square. In exchange for completing various levels, customers were given food rewards redeemable at Chipotle locations across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

“The idea of [the film and game] isn’t necessarily about driving trial or traffic,” says spokesman Chris Arnold. “Certainly we see some of that as a product of them, but the aim is to make people more curious about food and where it comes from.”

Judging by the results of the campaign—the film has been watched more than 13 million times to date, with 5 million views in its first week, while the game has been downloaded more than 650,000 times—many consumers are receiving that message loud and clear.

“All of these things have worked really very well and, in many ways, beyond our expectations,” Arnold says, adding that the film’s success has encouraged the brand to continue exploring these content marketing avenues. “At the heart of these kinds of content programs, you have to have a really compelling story, and we think ‘The Scarecrow’ certainly had that.”

The fact that it stirred up an enormous amount of organic buzz from consumers with help only from digital and social marketing—and little direct Chipotle marketing in the film or game—was another sign that the campaign was a huge hit. “They were stepping up and stepping out,” Powers Agency’s Powers says, “and that gets noticed.”

Growth, Story, Chipotle, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell