McDonald’s, Walmart and IBM: Marketing Brings Three Icons Back from the Brink

Geoffrey Precourt

“We messed up.”

These three little words are rarely used by image-conscious brand guardians in a public forum.

But, tough times drive tough confessions. And, at the 2009 Association of National Advertisers “Masters of Marketing” annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona three major marketers - McDonald’s, Walmart and IBM - readily used them in front of 1,200 delegates.

For McDonald’s, the mistake was focusing too much on the stores and not paying attention to their key customers. At Walmart, it was slipping away from the founder’s message and mission. And for IBM, the sudden realization of a change in the market conditions that had supported the company for decades meant the startling realization that an iconic brand was on the verge of bankruptcy.

It’s not as if Neil Golden (svp/, McDonald’s USA), Stephen F. Quinn (evp/cmo, Walmart U.S.), or Diane Brink (vp/marketing/global technology services, IBM Corp.) had been fed hallucinatory truth serums. Because with each tale of decline there was a story of remarkable recovery - with marketing playing a critical role.