Home > Articles > Business & Management

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Finding the "Woman Inside the Mom"

In early 2001, a new product category entered McDonald’s rigorous menu development pipeline. It was a line of salads designed to take the place of the ill-conceived McSalad Shakers that had been introduced in 2000 to replace side salads it already had on its menu. The "shakers" were designed so that consumers could eat a salad out of a cup. It was the fast-food version of a salad far more than it was a concerted effort to bring healthier food and vegetables to McDonald’s menu. Poor design and lack of interest from consumers doomed the product, even though by pulling it McDonald’s knew it would be far behind traditional competitors such as Wendy’s. Moreover, it would offer nothing to compete with new rivals such as the "fast-casual" food outlets like Panera Bread. They offered more modern takes on "fast" food, such as Asian chicken salads, low-fat chicken noodle soup, and sandwiches made with chipotle mayonnaise and gourmet cheeses.

With the new Premium Salads, McDonald’s hoped it was on to a product that would expand the brand’s appeal without sacrificing McDonald’s core qualities. "It wasn’t like our menu in the past didn’t appeal to women. Fifty percent of Big Mac sales are to women," Cook points out. "We are at our heart a burger and fries place." But in today’s world and with today’s women, McDonald’s had to be what it was in the past and find a way to link that to the present. "We knew that women loved many of the products on our menu," Cook said. "But there were women who wanted a salad instead of a hamburger and that had become a reason not to go into our restaurants." But the salads had to do more than make the statement that McDonald’s was putting more healthy products on the menu. They had to be salads that made sense for McDonald’s to sell. With McSalad Shakers, the innovation was the delivery device. Shaking up a salad in a cup with dressing made it very fast. But the salad wasn’t very good, especially because the dressing was not distributed throughout the salad. The salads had to be much more than just fast food. The innovation needed to come from some other place.

In 2002, when the new salads made their way through the company’s intense two-year development process, they came to the attention of Napier and her marketing team as McDonald’s moved responsibility for menu changes from operations to marketing: a significant move that put menu changes in the hands of consumers instead of executives. "The change meant that the people coming up with the new items were talking to consumers from the very beginning of product development," Cook says. In the past, menu changes were often conceived inside and then vetted through traditional focus groups and then handed off to marketing to sell. For Napier, having input into what went into the salads—not just the marketing of them after they were created—was the key. She needed more than another feel-good ad campaign or a product targeted at women through their children—the old way of reaching women at McDonald’s. "It’s easy to get caught up in the heritage of being all about children," Napier says. "It’s an honorable heritage with Ronald McDonald. But what we needed was a consistent focus on women, not just moms." The salads were exactly the kind of product Napier needed to make McDonald’s relevant to women—whether they were moms or not. "When I was given the salads as a project, I felt they would resonate with women," she says. "Mostly what I had seen before from McDonald’s was all about family and moms."

The shift from a "mom-centered" focus on women to women as primary consumers was a major step for McDonald’s. It was driven by a major change in the way the company conducted its focus groups. Traditionally, the company had used mixed-gender focus groups to bounce ideas off consumers and get their feedback on new menu items. Those focus groups were meant to mirror who McDonald’s thought its consumers were: a broad cut of the entire lower- to middle-class population of the U.S. But to test the salads, men were asked to stay home while women in the focus groups lunched inside a semi-truck trailer outfitted to look exactly like a McDonald’s restaurant. As the women ate the salads and offered suggestions to marketing and menu executives, chefs redesigned the salads according to the women’s feedback.

The women-only focus groups proved eye-opening for the executives who were still debating internally about how to make McDonald’s relevant to today’s women. Some were still certain that it was moms and children they should be speaking to, especially because Happy Meal sales were still sinking. "Is it women? Is it moms?" said Carol Koepke, senior marketing director–family brand, of the questioning that went on in 2002.23 With the issues of childhood obesity and the concerns moms had about their children’s eating habits, it would have been easy to focus on adding new items to Happy Meals. But that’s not what Napier’s team heard from their women-only focus groups. "What women told us was that all moms are women, but not all women are moms, so why weren’t we trying to reach all women?" she says. "We realized we should be finding the woman inside the mom."

So began the mantra that has come to define McDonald’s strategy toward women: finding the "woman inside the mom." Everything that McDonald’s did for the women’s market over the next two years—and what continues to drive its strategy going forward—flows from that mantra.

First up for redesign was the Premium Salads line, which was already well along in the development cycle. But for everyone working on the salads, from menu management executives such as Cook to Napier in marketing, there was an intense desire to make certain that the salads did more than fill a competitive niche. They had to be more than just another salad a woman could buy from a competitor. "We had to run our game instead of somebody else’s, which is what we had been doing," Koepke said, referring to McDonald’s strategy under Greenberg of following after competitors’ strategies instead of creating its own. The company had gotten into a bruising battle of "value" menus that pitted its $1 burgers against $1 burgers from its competitors. When Cantalupo came back to the company, he overhauled the company’s entire strategy. Instead of high-growth targets set by Greenberg and his predecessors that could be attained only by opening thousands of new locations every year, Cantalupo focused attention on same-store sales. Future growth, he said, had to be about having customers come back again and again to their local McDonald’s instead of simply opening another location.24 In his "Plan to Win" strategy, introduced in mid-2003, Cantalupo outlined five strategies that he believed would put McDonald’s back on the right track. They were people, products, place, price, and promotions.25

Therefore, the salads, one of the first new products introduced under Cantalupo’s new strategy, had to chin the bar in a way that few new products ever had to. They had to be the kind of salads that women would want to keep coming back for week after week. For Cook that meant going far further than making certain the ingredients were nutritious. They had to be a treat. "In focus groups, women would tell us that iceberg lettuce just wouldn’t do," she says. "Many of them wished they could buy the specialty lettuce from the expensive grocery stores, but they couldn’t afford it. So we came up with a mix of 16 different types of lettuce. We put crumbled blue cheese on it, and instead of making our own salad dressing, we decided to offer Paul Newman’s dressings." Cook adds that she would never have gotten to that kind of feedback in the traditional "mass developments" that McDonald’s had used to create new menu items. "We would have created a list of favorite salad ingredients in America and then thrown them all together in a salad," Cook says. But as the women opened up in the focus groups, they shared little details that made all the difference. "The details help differentiate you, and they send you off in a place where women are going to think, ‘Oh, they thought of me; they knew I’d appreciate that.’" She says the women wouldn’t have opened up with all those details if they had been in a mixed group with men. Today, McDonald’s conducts 50 percent of its focus groups as women-only groups. After women have given their input, however, many of the items are tested with men and mixed groups.

By March 2003, the salads with their radicchio, Boston, and Bibb lettuce, enhanced with ripe grape tomatoes and a choice of several Newman’s Own salad dressings, were ready for their debut. Now Napier and her team, including Koepke, had to turn "the woman inside the mom" mantra into an advertising campaign that would resonate with women in ways that even the best McDonald’s ads had never done. "Like so many marketers, we marketed to a media target based on the media we were buying," Koepke says. "We’d buy a television spot that was supposed to hit with adults 18 to 49." But that old approach wouldn’t cut it with a target that was so disparate, divided, and different as the women of today. The media-buying team decided to broaden its spending beyond national television—where McDonald’s had traditionally spent most of its money.

The team chose to buy heavily in women’s magazines, a medium that McDonald’s had rarely used. But magazines, far more than television, were key to reaching women. "For many women, those magazines are their treat at the end of the day," Napier says, noting that she often settles down with a stack of magazines in the evening. "It’s better than a sleeping pill to relax you." The magazines also were an elegant way of targeting women in the many roles they live through each day while letting McDonald’s focus on a specific salad that would appeal to readers of a particular magazine. In an ad placed in Shape, a magazine targeted at health-conscious women more likely to be single career women, the salad that got the biggest play was the Caesar with the lowest-calorie dressing option. In Parenting, Koepke focused on the experience women have when they come to McDonald’s with their children, but with the added benefit of having food that they would actually want to eat. That ad featured the crumbled blue cheese treat salad and ranch dressing. "Moms already had an emotional connection to McDonald’s. They remember it fondly from their childhood. But what we lacked was the relevant product that would talk to today’s mom," she says. With the salads, the relevance issue Napier had honed in on just six months before was well on its way to being solved. Instead of continuing to talk to women as moms—irrelevant in a world where women were so much more than that—McDonald’s had found both a product and a marketing message that would draw women—moms or not—into their restaurants.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020