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Storytelling In The News: #148

McDonald's ads reflect diminished role of storytelling?

May 13, 2004

In the Chicago Sun-Times today, columnist Lewis Lazare laments the decline of storytelling in the latest crop of McDonald's ads.

Eight months into the global rollout of "I'm Lovin' It," the fast-food giant on Wednesday laid out a new smorgasbord of commercials created by McDonald's ad agencies around the world, including DDB, Leo Burnett and Burell Communications

Given that all the work was created with a global audience in mind, it's not altogether surprising to see that most of the baker's dozen commercials rely heavily on music and fairly bland, universally comprehensible story lines -- when there is any story line at all.

Lazare sees McDonald's move into the global "I'm Lovin' It" ad strategy as responsible for a loss of the wonderfully nuanced storytelling that was at the heart of the great McDonald's advertising from another time in the company's history.

DDB/Chicago's "First Fries" comes closest to telling a real story -- in this instance one about two Asian girls who readily share almost everything until they get to a McDonald's restaurant, where one of them suddenly refuses to share her fries. The spot is full of exotic imagery, but with a 64-second running time, it seems too taken with its exoticness and dawdles too long before getting to the point.

And in "Little Things," DDB introduces a superhuman but silent McDonald's store manager who risks life and limb to make sure a customer doesn't get splattered with ketchup. The message is clear here, but again, the spot doesn't really reach out and grab the viewer.

From the standpoint of emotional connection, two spots from Leo Burnett are standouts. The 60-second "Hanging With Ronald" features a super pop-rock anthem celebrating the famous McDonald's icon, who now has the important corporate title of chief happiness officer.

Though Ronald was most recently seen shedding a tear in a superb print ad also from Burnett that ran in the wake of the sudden death of McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo, this new commercial is a glorious cavalcade of visuals showing, among other things, a happy Ronald in the mosh pit at a rock concert, playing tennis and shooting a few hoops with basketball star Yao Ming. This spot is all about happiness, and it communicates that feeling with great good gusto.

The 30-second "Moms," also from Burnett, uses a much more muted, but nonetheless gripping montage of shots of mothers in various stages of pregnancy to celebrate the heroic nature of women who bring new souls into this world and then tenderly nurture them. It's a simple but quite effective piece of work.

Lazare scores the ads as follows:

"First Fries" B-
"Little Things" B-
"Hangin' With Ronald" B+
"Moms" A-

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