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Restaurant Marketing Watch: McDonald's 'Signs' ad sparks controversy

Restaurant Marketing Watch: McDonald's 'Signs' ad sparks controversy

NRN editor and restaurant marketing expert Jennings breaks down what you should be watching in the industry this week. Connect with her on the latest marketing trends and news at @livetodineout and [email protected]. RELATED: • McDonald’s updates ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ campaign • McDonald’s service push includes big digital spending • More restaurant marketing news

In what is likely a sign of an uphill battle to come, the debut of a new McDonald’s television ad Sunday sparked mixed reviews, and within 24 hours was the subject of Internet parody.

The new ad aired during the NFL playoffs and the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, and is in the first wave of marketing since the Oak Brook, Ill.-based operator announced an update of its brand vision in early January.

Sticking with its tried-and-true “I’m Lovin’ It” tagline, McDonald’s is attempting to “reignite the lovin’” with its latest campaign.

Titled “Signs,” the commercial, created by advertising agency Leo Burnett, features a montage of signs outside McDonald’s restaurants across the country over several years, which refer to both national and local events. One sign said “We Remember 9-11,” for example, or “Boston Strong,” referring to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Others were general (“Thank You Veterans”), while some were local (“Happy 30th Ed N Beth”). The montage was set to the song “Carry On,” by the band Fun, sung by a children’s choir. A Tumblr page tells the story of each sign.

The goal was to herald the deep connection McDonald’s restaurants have with their communities.

The response on Twitter, however, was mixed at best. Some watchers were lovin’ it:

Others saw it as tacky, especially in light of the ongoing push for a living wage for quick-service workers:

And within hours, a parody was circulating in social media that offered a less-than-flattering alternative look at McDonald’s signs.

Washington Post blogger Roberto A. Ferdman called the commercial “a disarming minute of mushy corporate propaganda.”

But former McDonald’s advertising executive Barry Klein, who helped create the brand’s “You Deserve A Break Today” campaign in the 1970s, told The Huffington Post the new ad gives people a nostalgic reminder of what there is to love about McDonald’s.

“It’s about time,” Klein said. “That’s a big step forward in getting back to one of the important reasons for going to McDonald’s — it’s a nice, pleasant experience, it’s family time and it’s warm and fuzzy.”

Deborah Wahl, McDonald’s U.S. chief marketing officer, told the Chicago Tribune: “Good advertising creates emotion and it encourages conversation. We’re about engaging and leaning into that.”

It also comes at a time of change for McDonald’s, which in 2014 had its worst year in at least a decade.

The company has restructured U.S. operations, and is reworking its menu and expanding a customized platform called “Create Your Taste.” The new marketing effort launched earlier this year includes digital components, from mobile ordering to a Twitter team.

More is coming. McDonald’s has reportedly hinted that a 60-second Super Bowl ad will “reveal a big idea.”

In the brand campaign launch, Wahl said, “McDonald’s is moving from a philosophy of billions served to billions heard.”

To be heard, people have to talk. And McDonald’s has certainly gotten the conversation started.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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