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Thom Barker: McAds too tongue-in-chic for new burger offering

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Submitted

Is it just me or has the new McDonalds Canada advertising campaign left others scratching their heads?

In case you haven’t had the confusing experience of viewing any of the recent TV spots, they are artsy, grayscale vignettes featuring pretentious talking heads extolling completely over-the-top virtues of the new Big Mac with Bacon.

In the ad named “Courage,” for example, an overly earnest black hipster with a British accent intones: “What can we learn from this collaboration of Big Mac and bacon? I think we can learn a lot about cooperation, yeah? Togetherness. Oneness. Being separate too. Individuality. Teaches us about crispiness. Fundamentally it also teaches us about courage, right? How important is that, because it takes something, doesn’t it, to try something different.”

It took me several viewings and a Google search to clue in that the restaurant chain is trying to parody the pompous world of fashion advertising and not just failing at mixing up its marketing game.

On their own, the ads are actually kind of clever as a spoof, but maybe a little too clever for McDonalds. They’re trying to sell hamburgers, after all. I think it would work way better for, say, a discount clothing store such as Walmart or Target.

It could be argued, it works on some level. It has me not only talking about it, but writing about it, after all. And it has elements that make for a successful campaign. It definitely catches your attention just by being in black and white. It is memorable because it is so weird. And there is definitely no mistaking or forgetting what brand it is advertising, a classic mistake brands tend to make when they try to get clever.

Despite all of that, on a basic level, it just does not work. It does not, for example, have me wanting to try a Big Mac with Bacon even though I like both Big Macs and bacon.

I write quite frequently about marketing and advertising simply because I find it fascinating. It is something I believe has a massive impact—much of it negative—on society, but we tend to consume it uncritically.

Fundamentally, advertising is about emotional manipulation. It is designed to make us covet stuff, most of which we simply do not need and that ultimately makes us more anxious than happy because the more we buy, the more money we need to make, and the more we get tied down by the stuff we have.

There’s a great gag from The Big Bang Theory during a philosophical conversation the sitcom gang is having about work.

“You don’t go into science for the money,” Leonard says.

“Speak for yourself,” replies Bernadette, a microbiologist who works for a big pharmaceutical firm. “Last month my company both invented and cured restless eye syndrome.”

That line so perfectly and cynically sums up marketing for me.

All in all, I think the new McDonalds campaign is a fail, although a benign one. It doesn’t tastelessly offend anyone and if there was a backlash from the fashion industry, who would care?

It could be much worse; they could have pulled a Groupon, arguably one the most disastrous advertising fails of all time. Probably most Canadians aren’t even aware of the ad as it aired during the Super Bowl in 2011 and was quickly pulled by the company after they were roasted on social media.

The commercial begins with footage from Tibet and a voiceover by actor Timothy Hutton.

“Mountainous Tibet: one of the most beautiful places in the world,” the narration goes. “This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought at, we’re each getting $30 of Tibetan food for just $15.”

Wait. What? “Their very culture is in jeopardy, but they still whip up an amazing fish curry.”

Who in hell came up with that insensitive crapola and, more importantly, how did it get approved?

Congratulations McDonalds, your new ads suck, but at least you’re not Groupon.

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