In my opinion, McDonald’s doesn’t really need an ad campaign. The people of earth are aware of McDonald’s in the same way that you don’t have to remember how to breathe. McDonald’s simply happens. Sure, every once in a while, the McRib might come back, but people, when they go to McDonald’s, are going to go there regardless of any special additions to the menu. Something new will just be a little joy that fate hands to them upon arrival.
That being said, McDonald’s has three main advertising strategies. The first is just showcasing how good McDonald’s looks when it’s not actually tangible. The pictures of the food, prepared to perfection, are a radical difference from the thing that tends to slide apart in your hands when you actually sit down and unwrap it to eat it. I don’t know how hard it is to make a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger, but it would be nice to get one lately that doesn’t immediately lose all friction between its beef patties and turn into this weird salad of ingredients and bun.
The second is the McDonald’s commercial, featuring people who can’t afford much of anything, but can afford McDonald’s and that’s enough for any situation. A man can’t buy a wedding ring for his fiancé, but when he gets her the new, cheap McWrap, everything is fixed and she’s ready to immediately produce sons upon sons upon sons. I know that people in commercials are supposed to stand in for the common person, but it’s interesting to see this bizarre, alternate McDonald’s-verse, where all the people are poor, and soothing every emotional and cultural issue is easily done with the help of the Value Menu.
The third is the in-store displays, usually cardboard cut-outs of the food, or a plastic cell that holds whatever Happy Meal toy promotion that McDonald’s is having at the time. By the end of the lifespan of these toy cases, they are smudged and almost unrecognizably dirty, from all the smearing fingers of the children whose minds erupted once they saw Megatron.
I recently made a trip to McDonald’s to, as Johnny Cash once soulfully put it, “To see if I still…feel…” and I saw an in-store promotion that I didn’t expect. To advertise their new smoothies, McDonald’s had this set up:
It’s a fruit stand, relegated to the tiny bit of wall between the counter and the hallway to the bathroom. Now, I’m no expert on fruit. I enjoy McDonald’s far too much for that. If you hand me an apple, there’s an honest few seconds where I wonder if there isn’t a more efficient way to start a baseball game. But I know how to analyze a marketing campaign that may or may not work, and McDonald’s, I’m not so sure about this one, guys.
There are a few things going on here at once. The wood that makes up the stand is “old timey/barn” wood. It’s meant to evoke the response of “Well, this is older and thus more natural and better,” but it sticks out way too much for that. McDonald’s is made up of plastic displays, a hundred TV’s scattered around the McCafe, and tables composed of materials that wake Philip K. Dick up screaming at night. Their attempts to Amish it up are less recognized as “McDonald’s, just like Grandma used to make!” and more as “Why in the hell are there hay bales here?”
Which brings me to my next point: why in the hell are there hay bales there? I get that McDonald’s is establishing their farm theme, but a hay bale only serves to make people think about my last question, and to piss off employees. I grew up on a farm, and I’ve dealt with my fair share of hay bales. And regardless of how baled hay is, it never fails to get everywhere. Putting a hay bale in one location is the easiest way to have hay in most locations by the end of the day. You can twine it up, but hay belongs to no man’s will.
They have the checkered cloth, to show just how Country and simple/good times the smoothie is, a picture of strawberries on some napkins, and then some plastic strawberries in watering cans. At this point, it’s less of an ad strategy and more of a Mad Libs for “back porch of abandoned rural house.” But I guess this is how McDonald’s conducts its demographic research: by taking what little it knows about the demographic and then raiding the prop department for everything that seems to fit.
They have a little sheet of paper that says “Cool Down with a Strawberry Lemonade,” which corresponds with the watering cans, something that usually holds colder liquids that you pour. This doesn’t work for me, probably because I mentally take everything one step too far and imagine asking for a Strawberry Lemonade and having it dumped on my head like the most refreshing kid’s award show ever.
The top shelf features a basket of lemons, labeled “Strawberry Lemonade,” which is an exaggerated statement, considering that it isn’t. This is meant to once again promote how natural and healthy the Strawberry Lemonade is, but it’s immediately undone by the next basket to the right, the one full of plastic pomegranates labeled “Coming Soon Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie.” While I’m sure blueberry and pomegranate tastes good when you mix their artificial flavorings together and add copious amounts of sugar, I’m just surprised that the market for plastic pomegranates isn’t in as much of a decline as I thought it was. This display is probably in way more McDonald’s than this one. The plastic pomegranate industry is, in fact, booming.
To the right, we see the label “Mango Pineapple,” and once again, McDonald’s, I’m gonna question you on that claim. These are pineapple gelatin molds of some sort. They sorta look like pineapples, but they are neither of what you say they are. And they don’t fit the down-home, country-style, beer-for-my-horses thing that you’ve been going with thus far. Next to them, they have more lemons, these placed lazily with no sign at all. Luckily, I have long term memory and I was able to remember the far left side of the display and what it called half of these strange ornaments.
Consider me hesitant, McDonald’s.
For more everything, check out The Ballad Of Black Rambo and Tony and Daniel: Popping Culture 5 (Quentin Tarantino)