You'll sometimes hear it said that certain companies or products are so ingrained in the cultural consciousness that they don't need to advertise. That's probably true to some extent, but logically, if it were really true, those companies wouldn't be among the most prominent in the ad world, would they? Coke is one that comes to mind - what's the longest you've ever gone without seeing a Coke ad on TV? McDonald's is another. There are thousands of McDonald's locations all over the country. Do they need to advertise? Maybe not. But they ALSO don't need to do shit like this. And yet here they are doing it anyway.
Let me pre-empt the lovefest by getting this out of the way: McDonald's does not give a fuck about you, except inasmuch as you are a person with money.
Cashier: "Hi, welcome to McDonald's, how can I help you?"
Guy in Knit Cap: "Two hash browns and a small coffee?"
Cashier: "You know what, for your payment today - do you have your cell phone with you?"
Guy [warily]: "Yeah."
That guy is right to be suspicious, IMO. How often do you go to some store and they want your e-mail so they can send you coupons every day for the rest of eternity? He's probably expecting them to be like "Do you have your cell phone with you? Well if you install our app you can save EIGHT CENTS on this order!"
Cashier: "Dial up your mom, tell her you love her."
Dude continues to stare at the cashier. And he's correct to! Because this is weird.
Here's a question I have about this. It does seem like these might be real people. But what weird Stage McDonald's are they walking into where all the cashiers are these super-peppy, good-at-selling-this-bizarre-concept non-sullen-teenagers? Maybe this was shot in Los Angeles where every McDonald's is probably stacked to the brim with Juilliard graduates.
[Twinkly piano music starts.]
Guy in vest: "Excuse me?"
That guy actually seems like he might be a little pissed. "My mom died two years ago, you fuckhead! Just give me my damn hash browns!"
Woman in coat: "Hey mom, just wanted to let you know that I love you..."
"Hey mom, just wanted to let you know that I would never have made this call if I weren't being forced to do so by a multinational corporation pretending it cares about family values!" Seriously, how pissed must that woman's mother have been when she saw this commercial for the first time? "Wait a second! I thought that was just a spontaneous call from Megan! It was so sweet! And she really only did it to get a free hamburger? GOD DAMN IT."
Guy [looking vaguely embarrassed]: "Te quiero mucho."
Old guy: "How about you just tell me how much it is?"
Cashier: "That is how much it is! Boom!
What percentage of the time was that the initial response? "Quit fucking around and just give me the total, man."
Female cashier: "Your payment today will be... tell me what you love about your son."
Starts to get a little suspicious here. How was this arranged? They're acting like they're reading it off the screen, but it's not like the screen is going to know that the person who just walked up has a son, much less that he's conveniently standing there. If this was improvised because these cashiers are really actors, then I somehow doubt - even if McDonald's legitimately runs this promotion across the United States - that your experience will match this one. (Also, McDonald's is franchised. I wonder if a lot of franchise owners - who can pretty much do whatever the fuck they want within reason, as evidenced by the recent revelation that the McPizza is still being sold at two stores in the Ohio River valley - are lining up to give away free shit by telling their 16-year-old register drones to ask every 500th customer to hug their kids or whatever. Remember, prices and participation may vary!)
Mom: "I love... his compassion for other people."
[Other patrons applaud]
Oh come on. This didn't fucking happen. Unless McDonald's is treating this like waiters at a chain restaurant announcing a birthday. "Attention McDonald's guests! We know you had to pay for your food, but up front here we have Cheryl, and we've decided to let her pay using a sappy challenge question! Cheryl... name something you love about your son!" And the other diners are... happy she loves her son? Really pleased they got to partake in this spectacle? Or... taking direction from the person who brought all the cameras into the restaurant? I'm thinking it's that one. If I were just sitting in a McDonald's you can bet I wouldn't start clapping for ANYTHING that happened, not least because I'd be too busy feeling pissed off that I had to eat at a McDonald's.
Other female cashier: "The total says that she has to dance, right now!"
I hear ya, ladies. Oh, and then you see several cashiers dancing with the customers, and again you hear cheers and applause in the background. McDonald's REALLY wanted people to know this was happening. Or, more likely, everyone there knew a commercial was being shot. Much like that Bud Light ad from last night, it's almost impressive how quickly we go from "hidden cameras" trying to make the whole thing seem as real as possible to some obviously fake, scripted bullshit. Even if the people in this ad are real people who happened to walk into a McDonald's that day, and even if they didn't know they were going to get free food for embarrassing themselves on national television, I'm pretty sure they had some idea they were on camera.
Other female cashier: "That strawberry sundae's waiting on you!
Raising the roof guy: "Strawberry sundae!"
And again, CHEERS AND APPLAUSE. "Hey, we gave away one of our cheapest items! LOVE US."
Other female cashier: "You paid with lovin', that's all we need."
And finally we get to the point of this gross, cynical campaign. "Pay with lovin'." There's an onscreen graphic right after this which says, "Through February 14, McDonald's will randomly select customers to Pay with Lovin'." Wow, less than two weeks. You spoil us. (The fine print, which states that no purchase or order is necessary, is curious. I suppose that's a legal necessity but how would that even work? I walk into a McDonald's and go "Hey, can I get some free food if I hug my family? No? THEN I'M FUCKIN' OUTTA HERE.") What's "lovin'" about raising the roof anyway? Did they try asking that guy to tell various family members he loves them and he just kept going "Dead. They're dead. She's dead too. Can I just have my sundae?"
Female cashier: "Your total is one big family hug."
Sorry, but if you need McDonald's to inspire you to display any affection towards your family members, you've got way bigger things to worry about than the three bucks you're saving on your free Big Mac.
Let's be clear here: McDonald's does not care about you. They don't care if you love your mom. They don't care if you hug your kids. They care about your money. This ad campaign/promotion, by suggesting that they DO care if you love your mom and DON'T care about your money, is the most revolting kind of calculated, manipulative bullshit there is. It's true that McDonald's isn't going to worry too much about your money on a single trip. They can afford to give away a few thousand orders, or however many are going to fall under this 12-day promotion. What they want is for you to associate them with "lovin'." If hugging your mom gets you free food at McDonald's, that just might encourage you to go back to McDonald's! Because (a) you might get something free again (spoiler: you won't) and (b) you feel like McDonald's cares somehow. They don't. This whole campaign is basically a social psychology experiment with your money as the dependent variable.
Why should McDonald's care about you, of course? They're a company, and they have a bottom line. Getting you to come in and spend money there is part of that bottom line. And that's fine. But it's the WAY they want to get you in the door that I have a problem with. As annoying as I found ads like "The Quarter Pounder with Cheese knows you're eye-fucking it" - oh, did I ever - at least those dealt with McDonald's products. The only products even mentioned in this ad: hash browns, coffee, and a strawberry sundae. Because for the purposes of this ad, it is irrelevant what McDonald's sells. They could be a fucking hardware store for all we care. This is about manipulating the consumer. This is about getting you in the door not because you really like the product but because you've formed certain mental associations about the people behind the product. Yeah, advertising is all about social psychology in a lot of ways. But it's rarely quite this craven.
Just remember, this is the same corporation that is run on the backs of people who it even admits will need a second job just to make ends meet. (If you've ever wondered why McDonald's is staffed largely by teenagers, it's because only people who don't pay rent can afford to fucking work there.) Maybe instead of giving away food to people who, having walked into the restaurant with the intent of ordering and paying, can obviously afford it, they could use that money to pay their employees a living wage. Sure, it's not as warm and fuzzy as two weeks of food for hugs, but it would sure do a lot more to show "lovin'" in the long run. Oh, but if they started paying people more they'd probably have to do that forever! And that, unlike manipulating you into going to McDonald's more often, is going to cut into profits. Oh well!