Although the campaign does not appear on TV in the Netherlands, all of Marketingland applauded McDonald's latest international campaign two weeks ago. And this while it clearly breaks with widely held conventions of the trade: for example, there is no product on display, the slogan is missing at the end and not even (some form of) "Ba da ba ba ba" can be heard. Yet System1 that 98% of respondents recognized the brand at the end of the commercial. The researchers also saw that the emotion happiness actually only increased during the commercial. Cannes, here we come!

Not much later, Dutch commuters were treated to an eye-catching bus shelter. The bus shelters showed a big smile, combined with a price tag. Again, no product, no slogan, just the yellow M in the bottom right corner. Applause seemed to give way to confusion: Say cheese(burger)? A nose ring for €1.95? Dennis Baars, creative director of TBWANeboko, gave us the answer at Adformatie: 'Just look at the effect the poles with the yellow M next to the highway have on people. The smile that appears then, we also try to capture in this execution, by linking it to the price. The image is so strong that no more product or explanation is needed.'

It was the last sentence that raised our eyebrows at Validators raised (pun intended). Sure, the power of outdoor advertising is well established and McDonald's awareness is huge, but does this mean that a smile and a price is enough for a consumer? To find out, in the past week we presented three versions of McDonald's latest campaign to Dutch consumers: the abri described above, but also a version in which the logo has been removed and a version in which the message is written out, but the logo is absent. Time to find out if the image is actually so strong that it speaks for itself completely.

Logo so strong that a product is no longer needed

First, the question of whether a product is needed. Placing the yellow M ensures that 7 in 10 Dutch people (71%) spontaneously recognize McDonald's (helped even 93%). The abri with Spicy McNuggets but without the logo is correctly remembered by 51% (helped 71%). This clearly shows that McDonald's benefits from a logo. But also that the image brand is immediately so strong that a product is not necessarily needed. That alone is remarkably clever and proves all the more that our association network with brands is made up of so much more than what the brand wants you to buy.


Vlnr: Abri 1: Smile with sender, Abri 2: Product without sender, Abri 3: Smile without sender

Slechts 9% van de Nederlanders snapt de boodschap
Tot zover net zo goed als de internationale commercial. Maar een uitleg dan? Die lijkt, op basis van enkel de abri, zeer wenselijk te zijn. Slechts 9% weet na blootstelling dat de (kleine) prijzen van McDonald’s voor een glimlach zorgen. Diezelfde boodschap wordt door 20% teruggespeeld na het zien van een abri met uitgeschreven boodschap. Daarmee neemt McDonald’s wel degelijk een risico als het geen letterlijke boodschap communiceert. De groep respondenten die alleen een prijs en glimlach (dus geen beeldmerk) te zien kreeg, vond het nog lastiger om de connectie tussen prijs en glimlach (<4%) te maken. Het beeldmerk zelf is dus een sterke hygiënefactor, maar zelfs een grote speler als McDonald’s moet oppassen dat de creatieve vrijheid de uiteindelijke boodschap niet overschaduwt.

'So the logo itself is a strong hygiene factor, but even a major player like McDonald's must be careful that creative freedom does not overshadow the final message.'

More channels needed to link smile and low prices
For the conclusion, we take another trip overseas. What makes the British commercial very strong is that there are very subtle references to McDonald's even without the obvious branding. Could it be a coincidence that the woman in the first few seconds is wearing a yellow and red outfit? In addition, the 'eyebrow arch' is a forward translation of the yellow M, and System1 shows that the shape is already enough for many people to load their association network with McDonald's. Because the 'grand prize' is not directly linked to McDonald's, without an accompanying message it is not immediately understandable to a random passerby. Thus, we cannot yet speak of a brand asset. It is therefore also logical (and sensible) that McDonald's now uses multiple channels (TV, DOOH) to strengthen the connection between smile and brand in the association network. At the same time, you have to wonder to what extent you can appropriate something as basic as a smile. And isn't there already another brand that does everything for the smile?

Do you have any questions after reading this blog? Then feel free to email Joris van der Zwan.

This article is also available on MarketingTribune.