Cannes Lions

The Donated Day


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Case Film
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People's expectations of brands' commitment to sustainability are becoming more demanding. Environmental awareness is increasing more strongly among younger people in particular than in other age groups. For 42% of 18-29 year-olds, climate protection is the most important challenge of the present time (Ipsos 2019). Consumers demand transparency and demand actions – whether it's the origin of the raw materials or the reduction of CO2 emissions.

McDonald's has been striving for sustainability for years. By 2030 they even want to reduce their CO2 emissions by 33%. The market leader is making extensive efforts to become a more sustainable company, for example by operating many of its restaurants with green electricity, reducing packaging waste, using organic ingredients, and offering vegetarian and vegan options. However, as McDonald's sustainability communications motto "Believe it or not," makes clear: Prejudices and critical consumer perceptions are difficult to change.


If you have a brand that’s already contributing a lot towards a sustainable future on one hand but on the other hand people hardly believe it: what do you do?

Well, since the universe gave us one extra day in the leap year 2020, McDonald’s passed this gift on. On Saturday 29th February McDonald’s donated their entire advertising space and airtime for that whole day to the environmental organization “Treedom”. A small organization with a big mission: Plant trees - and thus compensate for CO2.

That was one of McDonald’s ways of credibly demonstrating its commitment to CO2 reduction. For the good cause of climate protection.


There are different ways for brands to strengthen their image. They may communicate their own sustainability. Consumers, however, have less trust in corporations than in independent organizations (Umweltbundesamt 2019). Brands can also collaborate with an established NGO and let its reputation radiate onto their own image.

However, polls indicate that small organizations appear more trustworthy. Young people especially are more likely to identify with young and ambitious organizations that think and act digitally and globally.

The young social business “Treedom” is an ideal partner for McDonald’s: They’re a global platform that makes it possible to plant trees remotely and follow up online. The perfect way to engage with McDonald’s young customers. Now they only needed to know about it. A new, unique approach: donating McDonald’s own visibility. A first in German media: one of Germany’s biggest advertisers pulls back and donates its own communication power to a small charitable organization.


On February 29th (leap day), McDonald’s Germany donated all of its creative power and the entire advertising space and airtime for that day – from TV, radio, and social media to press and public relations and print to in-store-TV, menu-boards and tabletop displays in all McDonald’s restaurants nationwide – to draw attention to Treedom.

For the 24 hours of “The Donated Day”, this 360-degree campaign gave Treedom the visibility enjoyed by McDonald’s all year round. The brand also developed all corresponding promotional materials for Treedom free of charge.

The hands-on action: McDonald’s made it easy for people to participate in environmental commitment and the planting of trees. Customers could purchase a tree-voucher in the restaurants for a special price of 8 Euros. Treedom planted a tree, customers could follow it digitally and watch the McDonald’s forest grow on the campaign website.


McDonald’s unique campaign caused big waves and granted Treedom nationwide visibility. Solely the buzz online and from the press generated a reach of over 78.1 million. Theoretically enough to reach every one of the 15 million 13-29 year-olds in Germany more than three times.

The barely known Treedom was overrun with interested new users and 8.306% more visits on within 24 hours. Their user base in Germany grew strongly and 44,296 trees were planted. This compensated for 8,755 t CO2, equivalent to what 2.14 million German drivers cause every day. All thanks to McDonald’s donated airtime.

The campaign drew attention to McDonald's sustainability efforts and helped to significantly improve the corresponding brand image by 11.9 % with teens and twens. The ideological solidarity with the young, climate-conscious generation helped to strengthen relevance and identification by 12.4 % among teens and twens.

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