Leo Burnett reveals how it raised eyebrows with a subtly branded McDonald’s ad
McDonald’s caused waves with a tenacious ad campaign that heavily relies on distinctive brand assets (excluding food or its restaurants). Here, Leo Burnett’s creative team explains how they raised so many eyebrows...
Last week, McDonald’s released an ad campaign devoid of its two most important assets: its restaurants and its food. Using subtle cues, the ad was recognizably from McDonald's and could represent an interesting new approach from the brand.
What was the thinking behind the risky, but ultimately popular, idea?
The universal invitation
Leo Burnett’s planning team and insight agency The Outsiders, first conducted extensive research with Maccy D’s customers. “Speaking to fans of the brand, we heard repeatedly, an invitation to McDonald’s is so universal it doesn’t require any words,” says creative director James Millers.
“We talked a lot at the start of the process to get to a shared vision and creative ambition,” added fellow creative director Andrew Long. The team developed a bunch of ideas but quickly focused on one route, aiming to elevate the ‘Fancy a McDonald’s’ affinity platform, the only idea they presented to the client. This included the link between the Golden Arches and the simple, relatable action of raising eyebrows.
“We built a compelling presentation that brought the insight to life with customer research footage and a sizzle film that showed the intent of the creative work. We knew we could tell a powerful story; owning that moment without needing to show the restaurant or product.”
To bring the idea to life, Edgar Wright was brought on board. The Hot Fuzz filmmaker used his natural flair for wit and physical comedy to elevate the spot. “What made him perfect for this job is his innate sense of rhythm and musicality,” says Millers.
“Use of music is prominent in all his work, and he has such a strong sense of choreography driving every directorial choice.” The creative adds that it was a “dream” working with the director but that it “speaks to the consistency of McDonald’s creative that we’re able to attract talent of that caliber.”
Speaking of music, the soundtrack just happens to be an 80s synth-tastic tune called Oh Yeah by Swiss electronic duo Yello. Leo Burnett had picked it from the very beginning.
“In the first review, Gareth Butters, one of our brilliant creatives, had made a simple animation of the McDonald’s logo, shaped like eyebrows, and set to that track,” comments Long. “From that moment on we were locked, and the whole film was timed to fit around the track.”
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To some, the ad might seem a little leftfield, but McDonald’s has been building up to this moment for a while. Previously, posters like ‘Lights On’, and ‘Iconic Stacks’ have played an important role. “McDonald’s’ investment in its brand and distinctive assets has been so consistent, it is now deeply ingrained with the audience,” added Long.
“That work showed us that we can credit the audience to connect the dots and complete a picture in their own mind.” Something which he adds didn’t come as a surprise but it “takes a confident brand and agency partnership to commit to them.”
And you better believe the creatives have been reading all the comments and speculation online about how difficult it must have been to sell an idea like this.
“The truth is, it wasn’t at all,” Millers says. “McDonald’s instantly recognized there was something unique to the brand in the idea and were just as excited as we were."
Market research company System1 backs this up, the subtle branding made no difference to brand recognition, it found. “We wanted to add just enough signposts throughout the film that the audience would have no problem connecting the dots by the time the end titles faded up,” says Long. “Things like the choice of color in wardrobe and props, the hand-drawn post-it notes, the way some shots were framed – all helped bring the audience in on the idea from the start."
The campaign continues to roll across other mediums including social media, restaurant activations and in-app promotions in the UK, with over 35 other markets around the globe joining in too.
“What the work does show is the amazing power of the McDonald’s brand,” concluded Long. “It has the ability to provoke a deep emotional response beyond just the delicious products it is famous for.”