McDonald’s and Vanity Fair are three words that are rarely used in the same sentence. But OMD linked them together as part of an innovative marketing strategy for the fast-food chain’s May 2005 launch of its Fruit & Walnut Premium Salad. By using a targeted print strategy focusing on health-conscious females, versus a mass-market television campaign, OMD helped McDonald’s create buzz—a fruit buzz, that is—among hip, healthy women. Such out-of-the-box thinking earned OMD the honor of Media Plan of the Year for best use of magazines.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-food chain introduced Fruit & Walnut salads in the face of heavy skepticism. Not only would the healthy product, packed with sliced apples, grapes, low-fat vanilla yogurt and candied walnuts, be offered among McDonald’s weightier offerings, the salad was missing a defining component—lettuce.

“McDonald’s had done research and consumers were saying ‘How do I know it’s fresh?’ or ‘A fruit salad without lettuce seems weird,’ ” says Diana Smith, OMD’s group director. “There was some convincing that needed to happen to break through that barrier.” What’s more, McDonald’s introduced the product three months after competitor Wendy’s put fresh fruit on its menu.

To overcome the challenges, McDonald’s had to rethink its typical marketing approach. Instead of a traditional TV campaign, McDonald’s and OMD decided to use a targeted print campaign that would focus on health-conscious women. The reason, says Anja Carroll, director US Media for McDonald’s, is that “salads are the one thing in our arsenal that skews female,” compared to other menu items—like French fries—that appeal equally to both men and women.

To find that health-conscious woman, OMD tapped affluent lifestyle magazines whose readers were least likely to visit a McDonald’s. But it wasn’t enough to simply place a static ad. “We had to grab these women by the lapels and make sure they interacted with the ad,” says Joel Redmount, OMD’s Ignition director. So, McDonald’s placed a four-page starburst pop-up ad in the June issues of Condé Nast titles Vanity Fair, Bon Appétit, Vogue, Lucky and Self with coupons for a $1 discount on the salads. The creative, with the tagline, “What’s a Fruit Buzz?” equated the feeling of eating a healthy McDonald’s salad to women’s feel-good moments, such as when you “can wear skinny jeans” or “when everything is 60 percent off.”

To reach mass consumers, two- and four-page ads were placed in mass titles such as Hearst Magazines’ Good Housekeeping, Time Inc.’s People, Cooking Light, In Style as well as Meredith Corp.’s Family Circle. In all, 32 magazines were a part of the promotion, the largest magazine-buy ever for McDonald’s. Additionally, the company placed poster-sized ads in health clubs nationwide, another first.

Publishers say McDonald’s approach helped put the restaurant in a new light. “It’s a good example of how [a client] who is not a heavy print advertiser used print very strategically,” says Jeff Hamill, Hearst’s senior vp, advertising sales and marketing. “The campaign was hip and fashionable. They did a masterful job of changing the dialogue about McDonald’s.”

According to McDonald’s, sales of the Fruit & Walnut salad in its first month were 128 percent higher than during the launch of its Fiesta salad the year prior. For the first five weeks, total McDonald’s salad sales were up 123 percent, with Fruit & Walnut salads accounting for 50 percent of that. And a year later, the salad continues to create a buzz. “My wife was eating two a day and still eats them quite a bit,” says Ed Hughes, client communications director for OMD. Stephanie Smith is a senior reporter for Mediaweek.