I was pleased and gratified to read the responses to my previous post on McDonald's recent "Signs" ad (if you missed the original article, you can find it here). The comments were varied and interesting enough that I thought it might be fruitful to parse a few of them in a follow up post.
Reader responses on the merits of the McDonald's ad leaned toward the "agreed with me" response, with many readers agreeing that the ad seemed inconsistent with their daily experiences with the brand. This reader, for example:
"I believe it was Marshall Mcluhan, in his book "The Image Makers" who wrote, "The medium IS the message." The medium, in the case of McDonalds, is much more than any electronic outlets which purvey their message. It is the person behind the counter who takes your order. It's the building and grounds you walk into, or drive through to get your order. It is, in short, all of the people and things which touch you in the course of your doing business with them."
"So many companies forget that culture and brand are intertwined. Ultimately the customer experience dictates how they think about you and with social media channels (unlike in the past) how a customer thinks about you is easily shared and magnified."
This reader thinks I may have coined a phrase:
"Some people believe in their stories, however, they fail to align their behavior with their stories. I guess we have a new term for that type of story - a McStory."
A reader highlights the importance of trust as an essential story element:
"[The McDonald's ad] is a prime example of trying to piggyback storytelling onto a shaky trust platform. Storytelling and content precede trust and contribute to it, but they do not create it by itself. If trust isn't rock solid, stories will undermine it better and quicker than anything else can...Rather than this story, McDonald's would be better served spending its money on addressing the fundamental reasons why people are turning away. Then, way down the track, they can have the luxury of telling stories."
While this reader, a software User Interface programmer, makes a compelling connection between brand stories and UI design:
"I was recently thinking something similar about user interfaces. You can't fix a flawed UI by grafting on another set of pretty pixels, not if the flaws come from not understanding customer needs in the first place. User interfaces today are in many (most!) ways an extension of marketing. We build these huge apps with so many features, and then graft on a navigation scheme that reveals the features in all their snarled, hierarchical glory to make the sales pitch easier. It's UI as slide deck...The culture of "build a feature and they will come" is entrenched."
A few readers wrote in to take McDonald's to task:
"McDonald's...business model does not allow for quality food. Being a publicly traded purveyor of fast food, there is nothing they can do to improve the quality or sourcing of their food.[The company] has forever lost customers who watch what they eat. There is too much information out there."
Other readers, however, commented to defend the company:
"The 'Signs' story shows me how McDonald's views themselves. It's a great company with a great, customer sensitive product line. It was very successful."
While one reader pointed out that the ad was just one piece of the company's rebranding effort:
"While I agree with the importance of holding a consistent line between the reality and the story, this is just one ad of a huge campaign to try and re-build the damaged brand. The company has made it clear that there will be initiatives to transform the fundamentals of the business. This is ad is just the start, so I believe it's unfair to judge the brand on the basis of just this. Let's check back in six months and see what progress McDonald's has made."
One reader accused critics of the ad of taking easy shots:
"I think there are certain companies (Wal-Mart would be another) that are trendy to slap. This article starts by throwing stones: 'more than just purveyors of empty calories.' even the comments attached to this story show that people are not fans of the company, but continue to use it (my kids love the Happy Meals). Maybe this campaign failed because it wasn't very good, maybe it failed because people didn't buy in, but in reality I can make an argument that McDonald's is a sturdy member of [these] communities and offers a product people have enjoyed for decades...not sure why that is a negative-- even if they are not hitting the heights they have in the past."
And finally, a few readers pointed out the obvious point that I missed in the original article:
"This [ad] created questions. But in the end, we watched and are talking about it."
A few readers also challenged me to name examples of companies who are successfully telling brand stories sincerely, consistently, and with resonance. Look for exploration of that topic in a subsequent post. And as always, thanks for reading.
Rick Ferguson is the author of The Chronicles of Elberon fantasy trilogy. Rick is also a globally recognized marketing expert with appearances in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, Fast Company, the Globe & Mail Canada, the Guardian UK, the Financial Times India, MSNBC, and the Fox Business Channel. He has delivered keynote speeches on marketing principles and best practices on six continents. He is also master of time, space, and dimension.