Kate MacArthur reports in AdAge today that McDonalds is launching a new ad campaign that in some ways emulates “the King” campaign from Burger King via Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. The ads will feature the plastic Ronald McDonald statues that are found in the restaurants. They will show consumers interacting with these icons.
A McDonald’s spokesman says that the idea is to, “share how our customers relate to the worldâ€™s most famous clown and the bond they have with our brand.” They are reminiscent of the McDonaldâ€™s spots of years ago that tug at your heartstrings.â€ The chain says that this campaign will continue and build on the “I’m lovin’ it” theme and will use the music associated with these spots. Up to 10 different spots will air on event-oriented programming including the Torino Olympic games.
This campaign will be an important one for McDonald’s as it marks two important transitions: the first work from TWBA/Chiat/Day in the U.S. for McDonalds and the first new campaign produced under Mary Dillon, the new McDonald’s CMO who has moved over from Quaker Oats.
This advertising blog cannot review advertising before it is seen. Nevertheless, we have some significant strategic concerns with the direction of this campaign. Neither we nor the U.S. consumer were fans of the Burger King campaign (see our review and links to the USA Today advertising preference survey here.) And we have been similarly queasy about the Quaker campaign featuring a statue version of the Quaker from the Quaker Oats box.
What’s the problem here? Why shouldn’t an iconic brand like McDonald’s show off its mascot and (as the company claims), ‘the world’s most famous clown’?
The problem is not the mascot but the presentation. Using objects that are inanimate or semi-animate (as with the Burger King – a real person wearing a plastic head) changes and distorts the relationship between the consumer and the brand.
This is most disturbing in the Burger King spots, where the Burger King stands at the intersection between friend and stalker and never once appears in the setting of the restaurants. The McDonalds spots should be tamer – with Ronald McDonald simply a statue and within the restaurant. Yet the underlying message is complex. If Ronald McDonald represents the relationship that children have with the restaurant, why have him as an immobile statue? And why waste brand equity and air time on building an icon that doesn’t necessarily have benefits for children.
McDonalds is right to focus its advertising efforts on the family. When it has pitched its message to adults, it has failed (see our review of a recent campaign along these lines here.) At its core, McDonalds has the simplicity, dependability and repetitiveness that is most attractive to children or young adults who have grown up with McDonalds. So focusing on families is the smartest way to guard this core audience.
It is still possible that McDonalds can so elegantly execute this campaign that it does not smack of stalking or creepy idol worship as in the Burger King or Quaker campaigns. But the line it thin and it is not clear what McDonalds gains from focusing on plastic statues when the family-friendly experience of McDonalds is what needs to be reinforced.