To reverse a sales slump and tout its healthier offerings, McDonald’s Corp. is specifically targeting women with a new advertising campaign for its premium salads.

Three 30-second commercials will air on prime time network slots Monday night and will be followed up by cable, magazine and newspaper advertising, including spots on Lifetime, the women’s TV channel and Hispanic station Univision.

The move is a marked shift for McDonald’s in that it will appeal directly to women as individuals rather than play to their role in the family, said Kay Napier, senior vice-president of marketing.

“We’ve always known that moms and women are the key decision-maker for our products,” Napier said. “We fell into advertising that in the past was trying to be all things to all people. We really think these premium salads will appeal to women, so we decided to target them specifically.”

The ads employ a “girlfriend talking to girlfriend” tone, Napier said. Men make no appearance in the ads, although Napier estimated that male customers purchase about 35 percent of all salads sold by McDonald’s.

Both the 30-second ads and shorter 15-second version focus heavily on the food and variety of the McDonalds salads that were rolled out nationally on March 10.

Some observers said offering salads, even premium ones, won’t deliver the gains McDonald’s is hoping for.

“Frankly, it’s just a “me too’ product based off of the success of rival Wendy’s International,” said Phil Lempert, a marketing specialist and editor of The Lempert Report newsletter. “You’re not really attracting any more consumers with it. For most women, McDonald’s is not the correct environment, it’s not a comfortable experience and these ads won’t change that.”

Napier disagreed: “I know I’m biased but I think our salads are better.”

Taste tests with 250 consumers recently that showed a preference for McDonald’s salads, she said.

McDonald’s could have chosen to bring out a similar-style salad, she said, but its food preparation experts developed an affordable premium product because “that’s where we think the market is going.”

She added that McDonald’s salads were “genuine” premium salads that offer as many as 16 different varieties of lettuce, far more than its competitor’s version and come with Newman’s Own dressing.

Wendy’s officials could not be reached for comment.

The success of the salads, which are selling in Chicago at $3.99, will ultimately be judged by whether they improve sales, said Napier, who declined to say how much of McDonald’s annual $500 million marketing budget will go towards pushing the new offering.

(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-18-03 1902EDT

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