- Anne Allison (Duke University) interviews Doug Porter (Leo Burnett) about advertising and the globalization of culture
Anne Allison (Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University) interviews Douglas Porter (Executive Vice President and Worldwide Management Director-McDonald’s at Leo Burnett U.S.A.). Topics include the relationships between culture and commodity, and questions of globalism and localism. In the interview, Porter discusses McDonald’s in terms of its history, operation, advertising campaigns, and development from an “American” institution to a global enterprise with localized differences in distinct markets. Specific attention is given to the China market, given Porter’s expertise in this region, and to how McDonald’s adapts to (and also gets mired within) societal changes operating both within the U.S. and also in different places around the world. Throughout the interview, Porter plays McDonald’s TV commercials from various advertising campaigns to illustrate the points discussed.
To start off, could you tell me a little about your own background.
I went to Cornell, and graduated in ‘78 with a B.S. in Hotel Management. However, I always wanted to be a pilot so I went through the Navy ROTC program and became a Navy pilot for seven years, 1978 to ‘85. I came to Burnett in 1985 and I’ve worked on Beatrice, Luvs Diapers, a brand at Procter and Gamble where we helped introduce the gender-specific diaper idea. Then I moved to Miller Beer in the late 80s and early 90s, and, later, spent from 1993 till ‘99 on Phillip Morris on different cigarettes ending up as the worldwide Marlboro director. In April of ‘99 I was given the opportunity to run McDonald’s worldwide. The responsibilities today are the US youth business; several different co-ops in the US, where the local franchises band together and do their own advertising; and in 25 different countries, international assignments ranging from China to the UK to South Africa to Argentina.
Let’s start with the McDonald’s global campaign—it sounds incredibly impressive. Is Leo Burnett the main advertiser?
It’s really spilt between DDB and Leo Burnett. DDB has a number of countries and we have a number. They’re located in New York—they do the adult business in the US. McDonald’s keeps it very competitive between the agencies, and it’s nice to have two global resources to call on.
Do you do certain countries?
Yes. We do 25 individual, different countries. One thing about McDonald’s—and I think it’s driven by the culture and the consumer-base in these different countries—is that it is very decentralized. McDonald’s is in 120 countries globally, and the decisions at the local level (as far as who their agency is or how the brand develops its marketing activities) are made by that local management.
So when you say local management, does that mean that in the 25 countries you oversee, Leo Burnett has a local agency there?
Yes. That would be correct.
So do you go and visit these individual agencies?
Yes, all the time.
And the person in charge is usually from the local country?
For instance, it would be the president or the managing director or the JVP (Joint Venture Partner) in that country. As far as Leo Burnett structure, we have the locals running each individual country, by and large. What we will do is sprinkle a number of ex-pats around. To give you an example, we have one ex-pat in London who looks over the majority of Europe and one ex-pat in Singapore who looks over the majority of Asia. We have slightly more junior people running Finland and also China. The ex-pats who have gained firsthand knowledge of the McDonald’s brand in a mature market like the US help us to extend and develop the brand in countries where it is newer. As you can imagine, the competition will be very different depending on the culture. For instance, in China the main competition is “hawker” stalls—older people selling noodles and...