Forrester & Fletcher celebrate the Leo Burnett Agency for their superb McDonald’s ad campaign:
Warding off potential UKIP votes, instilling community spirit, providing the adhesive for a fledgling relationship, through the eyes of Leo Burnett Agency, McDonald’s are Big Society in action, filling all the gaps left by closed libraries, budget restrained SureStart centres and overburdened social workers.
Describing the current McDonald’s television adverts through a cynical, socialist, prism they seem laughable. It’s a ploy, obviously, by a historically critiqued company, and from a public health point of view deservedly so, to muscle in on public goodwill to brands, especially since there is a lot of this public goodwill going begging right now. Thus, as our gilded modern ‘tech’ brands become oxidised with the perspiration of sharing private data while refusing to share out profits to the public, McDonald’s begins trading on its longevity, its standardisation and its ubiquity. In these austere times McDonald’s green-lights a campaign which seems like it is steering you to discover that the one you love was living just around the corner the whole time.
Despite what could be quite cloying and McFlurry-saccharine television ad’s the Leo Burnett Agency have crafted adverts of quite startling subtlety. The ‘Favourites’ advertising thread includes all these social elements we have already discussed but approaches them sensitively and with a knowing that errs on exactly the right side of arrogant post-modernity. Using elements of the McDonald’s encounter that appeal to a colloquial, anecdotal, shared McDonald’s experience and, at times, having the audacity to criticise the product itself, the Leo Burnett team present us with soufflé light narrative vignettes of fast food life; Mike Leigh turned marketeer.
Our introduction to the series began with ‘A McDonald’s for Everyone’, which was immediately noticeable for being so copy-heavy. Professional northerner David Morressey gives the ‘Just Passing By…’ poem a feeling of being in the working-men’s-club tradition but a trawl through a Merseybeat anthology reveals that it is not Brian Patten or Roger McGough but crafty copy. It seems strange to allude to this strain of leftist poesy in a fast food advert, the viewer who makes this connection is surely not McDonald’s core customer, but the effect helps highlight the democracy of the McDonald’s experience. Warhol’s comments on the economic transcendence of Coca Cola are equally legitimate here and this is exactly what this advert tells us in, what is perceived to be, the authentic voice of the people; all the Big Macs are the same and all the Big Macs are good. Furthermore the repetition of ‘just passing by’ works to remove McDonald’s from the category of actual meals and place it in the convenience snack category, while also adding to the sprightly pace of the advert. Eventually, once seen as part of a series, ‘A McDonald’s for Everyone’ acts as springboard to the other spots, it’s an opening scene montage flying through all of the characters we will later meet, like the start of some ambitious young director’s magnum opus.
Sadly this initial pace is lost somewhat by the obligation to pack the middle portion of 2012 with a turgid Olympic based campaign, but towards the tail end of last year we met ‘Dave’. From the macro of ‘A McDonald’s for Everyone’ Leo Burnett zoom in on one of these McDonald’s made relationships and we witness the blossoming bro-mance between Dave and his potential new stepson. After a brief moment of dialogue setting up the action, the repetition of ‘Nah, yer alright’ / ‘Alright’ keeps the advert from becoming too dialogue dense and helps it hint back at the previous advert with its own repeating phrase. It also gives great weight to ‘Dave’s punch line, offering the pickle and Dave’s refusal to take it coming in the passive-aggressive language employed against him during their home life. The democratic elements of colloquialism and the anecdotal are there, Dave calls it ‘Maccy D’s’, no-one likes pickle in their burgers, and, for those ‘non-core’ viewers whose interest was piqued by the use of poetry in the previous offering, a nod towards Dave’s potential DJing past, a hint that McDonald’s can be for the ABC1s. ‘Dave’ twangs the heartstrings, for sure, but utilises totally believable, flawed, characters and subtly fleshed out relationships in the style of a Judd Apatow comedy, currently much en vogue in Hollywood.
The most recent in the ‘Favourites’ thread is bold enough to remove expositional dialogue altogether, letting the story unfold completely naturalistically. ‘Parallel Lives’ shows intersecting ‘day in the life’ montages of two high-rise estate dwellers which initially feels like it will come to some kind of contemporary morality play dramatic dénouement. But far from showing soap opera sensationalism Leo Burnett again go for delicate, homely micro detailing. So seemingly two completely different individuals in age, ethnic background and upbringing, unbeknownst to one another, share roughly the same leisure activities when, eyeing each other in the local McDonald’s in the adverts finale, they apprehend their nature as interlinking cogs in society over their matching method of fry decantation. Again, it’s another of the anecdotal, communal, touches that bring the narrative together and that Leo Burnett wants us to associate with McDonald’s; not the enormity of the multi-national, but the personal touches that ubiquity necessitates.
The balletic triptych of chip chomping at the end of ‘Parallel Lives’ could certainly be seen as cringe-worthy, but seems earned by the lightness of touch that Leo Burnett have achieved throughout ‘Favourites’. Over the course of this thread the Leo Burnett Agency have trod fines line between knowing and smarmy and between touching and sickly sweet. They’ve been able to create a striking and strong brand identity based on the humanity of the patrons, rather than the quality of the product, and, perhaps not crucially for advertising but crucial for art, added value for, and to, the viewer. Reading the Leo Burnett Agency mission statement they talk about making brands ‘part of the fabric of real people’s lives’, making work that a ‘brand can grow into’ and ‘appeal[ing] to more than just the immediate target audience’ and on these terms this campaign is quite a resounding success. I’m lovin’ it.