Good work from Needham not enough to solve McD's problems

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Advertiser: McDonald's Corp.
Agency: DDB Needham, Chicago
Ad Review rating: Three stars

Did somebody say McScapegoat?

Along comes a fine new ad campaign from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, for McDonald's Corp., filled with humor, warmth and the astute recognition of the fast-food chain's remarkable cultural status.

This replaces more than a decade of advertising from Leo Burnett USA that was also filled with humor, warmth and the astute recognition of McDonald's remarkable cultural status.

Having watched Miller Lite go away, only to be replaced by the new agency's dreadful advertising, and having watched United Airlines fly away without necessarily creatively rising, Burnett is no doubt sickened to see its trouble-plagued showcase client taking its immense marketing problems elsewhere for repair.

But if it's any consolation to the agency that wrested the assignment from Needham Harper Worldwide 15 years before DDB Needham wrested it back, at least they didn't lose out to some embarrassing, Miller Lite-weight sort of campaign.

This stuff is the real goods. The tagline will quickly enter the vernacular and the campaign's thematic thread may well reinforce McDonald's place in the fabric of the popular culture.

"Did somebody say McDonald's?" is the tag, encapsulating the ubiquity, the bewildering allure and the unambigu inhard's famous "You deserve a break today" promise of a modest, middle-class perquisite.

One of the best of the first nine new spots focuses on a hapless road warrior, squeezed into a coach middle seat, crammed into a tiny "junior-executive suite" hotel room and transported in a rental car called "a two-door Speck." "Speck?" the guy asks. Then a cut to him on the highway, driving a sub-sub compact the size of a golf cart. This guy really does deserve a break, so he heads for McDonald's to order a super-sized anything.

Another spot shows a guy in an office running out for McDonald's, foolishly offering to pick something up for a colleague. Soon he has hundreds of orders to bring back. And yet another spot shows a prizefighter's dad reinvigorating his nearly defeated son by reminding him about a stolen french-fry incident at the kid's McDonald's birthday party 15 years earlier.

The film is riveting, but the punchline would be meaningless if the McDonald's birthday party weren't an immediately recognizable cultural rite. This is very observant advertising, as is a spot about a working mom headed for a business trip, briefing the hubby and the kids on the color-coded selection of entrees she has painstakingly prepared.

The father and the two boys exchange nervous glances. Needless to say, in this best commercial of the lot, Mr. Mom and the kids wind up at McDonald's.

So, no, there's no reason to think this account switch can't produce solid, even great advertising, for years to come. If so, it will turn out to be a good move for all the wrong reasons.

Burnett wasn't the cause of McDonald's problems. From this vantage it looked rather like the victim, the victim of marketing indecision, panicky tactics and the steady decline of the chain's fundamental principles.

Founder Ray Kroc constantly hammered home Quality, Service, Value and Cleanliness. Well, you can argue all day about the quality and the value of the cardiovascular timebombs they call food, but unquestionably the McDonald's experience has long since ceased to dependably include service and cleanliness.

The counter help is typically sullen, the restaurants typically filthy. For a chain that became a titan precisely by being uniform and predictable, such uniform and predictable slovenliness now works doubly against it.

Instead of firing advertising agencies, McDonald's might consider ousting a few dozen lax franchisees. We suspect the smiles and the mops would magically reappear systemwide, and consumer loyalty thereafter.

We will also miss Burnett's advertising. While much of it was ordinary, often enough it was extraordinarily poi cerned. The agency seemed to have rare insight into the toddler psyche, and endlessly refreshing ways to comically flesh it out.

If dependability is one of the load-bearing Golden Arches, the cultivation of kids and their young parents is the sec serves to be if kid-related stuff from DDB Needham proves to be Burnett's equal.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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