Since 2008, McDonald’s UK has been working on an image overhaul with advertising leaders Leo Burnett, a company whose slogan is, “We don’t make brands famous, we make them popular”. The ad agency had a difficult job on its hands; poor old McDonald’s had a rough ride with PR in the noughties; first it was linked with political corruption, then SuperSize Me showed a man’s body slowly decomposing on a diet of Maccy D’s, and all the time those environmentalists kept harping on about that darned rainforest. Leo Burnett’s first job was to run a set of ads to show that, contrary to popular belief, McDonalds’s is actually one of the UK’s leading health and organic food retailers (come on guys, they sell apples).
This health campaign, combined with the crowd-sourced “We All Make The Games” campaign, have acted together to (according to the Leo Burnett website) “double trust” in the brand. But, not content with this, in the past twelve months the Burnett ad team have gone further, launching a raft of adverts aimed to make Maccer’s the restaurant de choix for the hip, young professional. Part of this, involves the promotion of McDonald’s “freshly ground coffee” range.
“Coffee and Conversation”, which first aired last year, shows us a series of vignettes that demonstrate the kinds of every-day conversations people have round a cup of java à la McDo. For example, the ad begins with a disgruntled thirty-something telling her friend “and then he taped his face to the dog”, ; “I hear ya sister”, the viewer will think, “if I had a penny for every time my Pete taped his face to the dog…”. Another scene shows a sassy London gal with her mates trying desperately to de-code her boyfriend’s mindbogglingly cryptic text -“C u l8a”. “What does that mean?!”, she cries, her mates are hysterically excited about the whole thing, but also unable to elucidate the mystery.
Indeed, so at home is the young professional in Mcdonald’s, that one trendy young man chooses it as the place to start his relationship, and an attractive young blonde, deems it an appropriate place to end hers; we zoom in on a drop of coffee creeping down her cup, as she splutters, “I just feel differently about you now”. The drop of Maccers coffee, in a very contained kind of pathetic fallacy, – I think – is meant to represent the anguish of the young blonde. In an even sadder scene, a dead-eyed thirty-something in a suit tells his indifferent colleagues “I talked about staplers for an hour today”.
Leo Burnett reaches out to the young professional again in ‘First Day‘, an ad in which a young man starts a new job in a funky modern glass building. His new boss bombards him with information and acronyms, she even follows him into the men’s toilets to tell him he’s drying his hands wrong. Overwhelmed, he hobbles over to McDonalds’s on his lunch break, as he orders a Big Mac the world is put to rights; he proceeds to flirt with his burger, before turning his attentions to the colleague he’s made sexy eyes with earlier, who also lunches under the Golden Arches. Romance is not dead.
The ad, “He’s Happy”, again, pushes McDonalds’s as a place of sanctuary for the hot young boy- about- town. A plucky twenty-something leaves his city flat and sings a chirpy rendition of ‘The street where you live’ from My Fair Lady; he smiles at passers-by and winks at foxy florists as he goes. At the end of the ad it is revealed that the cause of his light mood and public singing is not a lovely lady, but a double big mac.
Now, It is not that these situations are so very implausible, romances may have started in McDonald’s, people probably do have depressing conversations about their work in the restaurant, and many people on their first day at a new job might choose to eat at McDonalds’s, for its grim familiarity if nothing else. But the McDonalds’s in question would not be the soft-lit, soft-focus, everyone is under 35 and gorgeous one, created by Burnett’s team; in real McDonalds’s, the lights are too bright, there is invariably at least one screaming child in the vicinity, and olfactory perception (conveniently absent in a TV ad) is filled with the smell of chip fat mixed with disinfectant. That is the reality; getting dumped in McDonalds’s would be hideously depressing, having lunch there every day would give you permanent afternoon indigestion.
Oh, and take note Burnett; nobody tapes their face to dogs.