This week’s head-spinning moments: One McDonald’s ad, 4 warnings for all other restaurants

Wendy’s might not exist in its current form if the “Where’s the Beef?” commercial had never been aired. Rare is the Baby Boomer who can’t recall the words to “Have It Your Way,” their generation’s intro to Burger King. And Little Caesars probably would have stayed little if a cartoon Caesar hadn’t barked “pizza, pizza” enough times for the ad message to sink in, “Oh, they offer two pies for the price of one!”

Commercials can make or break a quick-service chain, as McDonald’s must have chanted before it okayed the spot airing this week for the new Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich. Maybe the spot isn’t in the same league as “You Deserve a Break Today” or “Two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions on-a-sesame-seed bun.” But it’s the clearest blueprint to date of how the limping giant hopes to regain its stride.

The ad’s 180 from McDonald’s usual formula should turn the heads and chill the heart of any restaurateur who competes for share of stomach with the limping giant. And that means the operator of any place with a napkin.  Clearly the chain is coming after their customers again.

Here are some directional signs that can be gleaned from the spot about how McDonald’s intends to do it:

No more banking on the McDonald’s name.

Being one of the world’s most recognized brands is more curse than blessing when the name conjures negative associations. “McDonald’s” equals “factory food” in the minds of many consumers, as recent research demonstrated. A survey commissioned by Crain’s Chicago Business found that the public’s strongest reason for bypassing McDonald’s in the last five years is a concern about the food.

McDonald’s is mentioned once in the Buttermilk spot. A logo appears briefly as the commercial’s big reveal, and then it’s in the background as the ad concludes.

The only “restaurant” shown is a food truck at a food-truck roundup, and it sports neither McDonald’s colors, icons nor name. The sandwich is shown outside of any packaging that might connect it with the chain.

And the message is obvious: This is a great sandwich. It just happens to be sold at McDonald’s.

Focusing less on the converts you already have.

There are no children shown in the spot. No smiling families or obvious moms looking for something the kids will relish as a treat. There’s not a single beaming grandparent.

Instead, the spot is packed with millennials, the fickle young adults who are forsaking the brand.

Be real.  

Gone are the cyborg-like consumers and crewmembers who seemed too fresh-scrubbed to be human. Shirts are untucked, hair is mussed and not everyone could double as a model.

And, of course, there’s not a Grimace or a Mayor McCheese to be seen.

The spot is less Disney-esq and more real-life—a slice of reality TV, not a clip from the lives of an impossibly perfect sitcom family.

It’s all about better food.

The whole point of the commercial is that the new sandwich is stunningly better than anything you’d expect from McDonald’s. Indeed, one consumer shown in the spot questions that the food could have really come from the chain.

Like Domino’s, which built an ad campaign around how bad its pizza formerly was, McDonald’s is slyly acknowledging that it did not keep up with rising expectations, but is catching up fast.

And if you try the sandwich, you’ll see that there’s credibility to the assertion.


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