The Beginning of Brand-less?

By now you’ve probably seen the McDonald’s television ads launched in April? If you have, it’s not because you stumbled upon them via the brand’s YouTube channel – you won’t find them on Facebook or Instagram, either. The ads – which promote a $1 soft drink offer – are part of the fast food chain’s first unbranded marketing campaign. And while the brand is never referenced by name and those famous Golden Arches are nowhere to be found, the ads do feature actress Mindy Kaling, who can be seen donning a yellow dress and standing in front of a red backdrop. Other than that, these new McDonald’s ads are seemingly, well… McDonald’s-less.

The campaign’s tongue-in-cheek approach is a play on how millennials – teenagers and twentysomethings, specifically – consume content. Advertisers are already competing with Netflix and other streaming services, but an increasingly steady stream of smartphone activity presents an equally daunting challenge for brands and advertisers alike. A few years back, Anheusier-Busch launched its “Let’s Grab a Beer” campaign – not “Let’s Grab a Bud” or “Let’s Grab a Bud Light” – totally unbranded. The campaign, which was geared exclusively toward millennials, aimed to grow the brand’s market share by boosting the entire product category.

When teenagers and twentysomethings sit down to watch tonight’s episode of [insert show here], they’ll be doing so while texting, tweeting, snapping and scrolling. And content marketers have learned their attention is as valuable as it is scarce, which means brands that capture it must work even harder to maintain it.

There’s no bigger turnoff than a logo, a jingle and a “You should buy this now because we said so!” message on the television screen. Millennials have their guards up; they’re selective about their buying decisions and these days, when it comes to influence, peer-to-peer and word-of-mouth take the cake. So, instead of relying on traditional marketing tactics, the brand chose to leverage the power of Google and Coca Cola (both do get mentioned in the ads, by the way), calling on viewers to “Google that place where Coke tastes so good.” Soft drink aficionados have long claimed Coke “just tastes better” at the fast food chain’s restaurants, which is why that Google query already delivered millions of related search engine results.

Okay, so, what’s the point? McDonald’s was interested in the prospect of real-time marketing and its ability to influence consumer behavior almost instantaneously. Knowing the ads would likely generate media coverage following first run on-air (SPOILER: they did), the brand kept things completely under wraps to ensure the real-time search results were as organic as humanly possible. If executed properly, the ads would have created and delivered an immediate emotional connection between the viewer, the fast food chain, Google and Coca Cola; a true win-win-win. Only time will tell, but something tells me they’re on to something…