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Two All-Beef Patties Special Sauce Lettuce Cheese Pickles Onion on a Sesame Seed LIE!

Or, the Freaky Universe of McDonald's Advertising

by Tim Harrod | Issue 24

Click here to download the commercials reviewed in this article at all once (requires Bittorrent).

Ever since the Earl of Sandwich first ordered meat between two pieces of bread in 1765, entrepreneurs have sold sandwiches to their neighbors who want one. This article is not about those people. Here we will explore the much larger and eviler business of getting them to want the sandwich in the first place. The next step--physically vending a carefully formulated chemical stew that resembles a sandwich--was already explored extensively in Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's famous long-form Jackass stunt, which shocked the eight people who have never eaten at McDonald's with the blockbuster revelation that the food there is bad. As great a film as this is, it glosses over the fact that the McDonald's story is one of relentless and hilarious marketing across many media (but especially TV). Billions of dollars paid over the years to writers, set designers, composers, singers, actors, camera operators, video editors, and finally TV stations, have ensured that no one born after the 19th century can go through a day oblivious to McDonald's existence. Unless they don't have a TV, and hey, let's be realistic. You honestly think there's $5 worth of ingredients in that value meal? Hell, naw. So enjoy the following ads--you paid for 'em.

McDDONALDLAND
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This is McDonaldland's first appearance, and I'm pretty sure this is where Michael Jackson got the idea for Neverland. You've got the magical wonderland that attracts kids but is built on a crass ulterior motive, pop music, free junk food, and, of course, Ronald's ever-changing appearance. Watch for that clown 'fro to vanish in future spots.

EXT. MCDONALDLAND--DAY

Two children marvel as Ronald McDonald guides them through McDonaldland, showing off the characters and geographic features. The trip ends at a McDonald's restaurant. An unseen light rock band, sounding something like the Byrds, performs the gently psychedelic jingle.

BAND: Get yourself ready for a trip through McDonaldland / Take along a friend, and grab ahold of Ronald's hand / Follow Ronald McDonald through the land of apple pie trees / And don't be surprised if you meet Big Mac and Big Cheese / There's a thick shake volcano, you'll even find a French fry plant / Now just turn around, and see if you won't find a hamburger patch / As you're heading fooooor . . . A McDonald's . . . in McDonaldland, a McDonald's . . .

Here's a mind-blower for hungry third-world countries: in America, where the soil yields healthy food in abundance, we teach our kids to fantasize about over-processed crap with the nutritional value of the inside of a York Peppermint Patty growing in the wild. Maybe if we wish really hard, and knock down some fruit orchards to make room, it'll come true!

It's funny how their magical romp ends at a real-life McDonald's restaurant. I'm sure that place does bang-up business selling burgers twenty feet from where they grow on bushes for free. I guess they get paid to remove the big googly hamburger eyes so you can eat without your lunch staring reproachfully back at you.

EVIL GRIMACE
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People who aren't scholars of McDonaldland history usually assume that Grimace was just born "that way"--that his persona goes hand-in-hand with McDonald's support for the Special Olympics, so to speak. They forget that Grimace used to be a malicious, four-armed hoodlum who stole beverages and scuttled sideways like an actor who had no idea how heavy the costume would be.

EXT. MCDONALDLAND--DAY

A GIRL is skipping a rope twirled by RONALD and BIG MAC, when they witness EVIL GRIMACE stealing beverages from a miniature train.

EVIL GRIMACE: Aaaaaah! I'm thoisty!

RONALD, wearing a beret and oversized sunglasses, picks up a movie camera and chases after EVIL GRIMACE.

ANNOUNCER: Thinking quickly, Ronald disguised himself as a big Hollywood movie director, took a shorcut and headed off the Grimace at Filet-O-Fish Lake.

RONALD intercepts EVIL GRIMACE at the shore and convinces him to walk backwards into the lake.

RONALD: Wait! ...What a face! What beautiful eyes! I'm gonna make you a star!

ANNOUNCER: The Evil Grimace was very flattered!

RONALD: Would you mind stepping back a bit? . . . Little further . . . Just a lit-tle bit . . . further.

ANNOUNCER: Spa-lash!

RONALD: You were sensational!...

Magically and with no explanation, RONALD and GIRL are back at McDonald's where RONALD finishes what he was saying.

"Took a shortcut" and "headed off" Grimace? He moves like a stoned glacier, for God's sake. You've definitely been playing jump rope for too long if Grimace can outrun you, whether or not you're loaded down with a heavy Roman Polanski costume.

I don't know the particulars of Grimace's rehabilitation, but from the way he ended up I'm betting a good old-fashioned icepick lobotomy did the trick. In fact, he might have inhaled enough water thrashing around in that lake to retard him up. I bet he never realized he was tricked, and is even now camped out at the multiplex waiting for the gala world premiere of "Grimace Walks Backwards for Eight Seconds."

But for all of McDonalds' crimes, it was good of them to admit that drinking enough of their shakes will turn you into a slow-moving toothless blob. Oh, and Officer Big Mac? Why do you appear in the first three seconds of the commercial, then vanish once a crime is in progress? Way to sit on your ass while Ronald does your job. No wonder we don't see this guy anymore--there was some Serpico shit going on at the arches.

 

SHAMROCK SHAKES
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My main reaction after watching this was that I'm really, really glad McDonald's dropped the watermelon shake promotion. To be any more stereotypical, this guy would have to conclude the ad by car-bombing Wendy's Dave Thomas.

INT. MCDONALD'S—DAY

A walking exaggeration of "quaint, provincial Irishness" enters the restaurant and approaches the counter to order.

CASHIER: How may I help you, sir?

IRISHMAN: Yes, Oy think Oy'd be likin' something as coooool as a green glade, refreshing as a . . . as a spring breeze.

CASHIER: Then you'd like McDonald's green Shamrock Shake, sir!

IRISHMAN: A green sheck! (Takes sip.) Woy, it's the grondest thing oy've tested since visitin' the old coontry!

CASHIER: Which country is that, sir?

The IRISHMAN smiles as a twinkle of what sounds like Leprechaun magic permeates the restaurant.

ANNOUNCER: For the wee bit of Irish in all of us, try a delicious green shamrock shake.

Of course he likes the shake--it's the first thing he's ever eaten that wasn't boiled for months. I wonder how many restaurants he went in to order "something as cool as a green glade, refreshing as a spring breeze" before he lucked upon a place that not only had one of those, but also the patience to listen to him. Dude, we have what's on the fucking menu, OK? I don't go into the supermarket, walk up to the cashier, and say, "I think I'd be liking the ingredients to a dinner that thrills the palate like a savory symphony, that fills the belly but leaves you hungry for more, and that isn't lasagna because I had that for lunch."

 

HAPPY PLACE
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There's one key to really enjoying this spot: Pretend that every McDonald's menu item is laced with pure cocaine.

EXT. MCDONALDLAND—DAY

Various McDonaldland characters and human children rush to get to McDonald's while singing

Everybody's headin' for McDonaldland / Hurryin' and scurryin' to beat the band / They're in a happy mood, to get that happy food / Like burgers, shakes and fries / And luscious apple pies / It's always like a party when you get there / You're always gonna get a big hello / That's why everybody's headin' for McDonaldland / The happy greetin' place / The happy meetin' place / The happy eatin' place to gooooo!

This spot is one I really hope you'll watch, because it contains my favorite McDonaldland character, "Car-Crashing Disheveled Elderly Man." Educators were worried about the messages Hamburglar and Evil Grimace were sending kids, so they were briefly replaced with Car-Crashing Disheveled Elderly Man, who would liven up commercials by crashing his car into all sorts of things while screaming about McDonald's food. In one spot, they discussed sending him to a rest home for his own safety, but being a McDonald's employee he couldn't nearly afford such a thing.

 

WASTEBASKETS
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I think it was Mary Poppins who pioneered production numbers about picking up after yourself, but leave it to McDonald's to turn it into a cost-cutting measure that allows them to fire one more staffer.

EXT. MCDONALDLAND- DAY

Ronald and two children eat out on the patio. Mayor McCheese is standing there for no reason.

RONALD: Say! When you go to McDonald's for all those good things to eat and drink, be sure you stop and think about what to do when you're through! Don't forget to feed the wastebaskets, ‘cause they're hungry, too!

Two terrifying puppet wastebaskets spring to life and begin singing as the happy diners cram rubbish into their throats.

WASTEBASKETS: That's right, we are! And we'd like to ask a favor of you / Would you mind letting us have the paper please when you're through? / It's a special little treat when we get to eat the paper--yes indeed! / So if you've got a cup or a napkin or bag that you don't think you'll need / Don't forget to feed / Don't forget to feed the waaaastebaskets / At McDonald's, In McDonaldland, In McDonald's.

Now, if McDonald's was my chain, I'd have augmented the ad campaign with fun trash receptacles in the real restaurants that actually look like those guys and say, "Yum Yum" when you use them, but that's why I'm not an oversized corporation. Kids watched the ad and joined the McLabor force for no pay anyway, so it was an effective campaign. From my own experience, it was way, way more effective than the campaign with the puppet toilet that sang, "Remember not to stuff me with wadded-up paper towels so that I overflow during Saturday lunch rush, because the homeless have no other place to defecate and a lot of them will use me anyway, like that freaky dude with one eye swollen shut and the old guy who digs around in the singing trash bins for thrown-away Monopoly stamps and then asks the cashiers if they're ‘worth anything.' Like, yeah guy, our garbage is worth a billion dollars. Jesus."

 

BLIND DATE
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When you devote enough time to writing mockery-based comedy, making a practice of turning the merely odd or quirky into the palpably funny, sometimes the gods will throw you a treat by allowing the existence of something so distorted and inherently ludicrous that the only question is how to make fun of it. Here is the 1980's one of those:

EXT. HOUSE--NIGHT

A woman answers her door and meets her blind date, Larry.

WOMAN: Hi, you must be--

LARRY: Look, before you develop a whole big list of expectations from me, let me just spell out how it is. This is what I wear, nothing imported, that's fine! Because I'm not a professional male model. I'm also not a doctor, not a lawyer, not a banker, not a CPA. I am a salesperson at a record store. Therefore, if you want to go out with me, we will not be going to any restaurant which refers to itself as a "bistro," a "casa," a "maison." We will be going to McDonald's. Afterwards, we'll catch a movie, not a play, not the opera, not the symphony, not the ballet; it'll be me, McDonalds, movie... think it over, I'll be out in my car. My plain old, just "fine" car.

After this amazing tirade, LARRY turns and walks away.

WOMAN: Larry? McDonald's and a movie . . . sounds great!

"Happy" music punctuates the moment as they walk to his car.

LARRY: Well, just so you know, it's just a date! Not a commitment, not a proposal . . . just a date.

I'll tell ya: I wait in line for Star Wars movies, and even I can find fifty ways that no real-life date ever went like this. Even knowing that McDonald's commercials take place in a universe where no other food is available, there has to be more going on in order for this ad to make sense. Some of my leading theories:

1. Remember in Super Size Me where it turned out that all the Big Macs were depressing Morgan's sex drive? Apparently our pal Larry eats so many Happy Meals he's developed a negative libido, which means he actively tries not to get laid.

2. The woman's vagina is crawling with scorpions.

3. The state she lives in has a 1:4000 male-female ratio.

4. She's actually 80 years old and the youth potion will wear off in one week.

5. Her dad was not only one of those evil "You have to earn my love" fucks, he had a giant score chart on the living room wall.

6. The only truly plausible theory, "all of the above."

ELECTION
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Stay Free! Presents: "You are the Satirist." As a public service to the three percent of the population who do not have websites filled with snarky observations about U.S. culture, Stay Free! magazine provides the following beginner-level opportunity. Watch this McDonald's ad carefully, and follow the exercises afterwards.

EXT. MCDONALDLAND--DAY

MAYOR MCCHEESE arrives at the McDonaldland restaurant via a miniature train. A cheering crowd of children welcome him.

ANNOUNCER: Well, well! Election time in McDonaldland! Mayor McCheese is making speeches!

MCCHEESE: Greetings, friends! What this place needs is more, uh . . . um . . .

RONALD: Uh, cheeseburgers!

MCCHEESE: Cheeseburgers, yeah! They're delicious, honest! Uh, self-winding, you know!

RONALD feeds MCCHEESE another line.

RONALD: Trustworthy!

MCCHEESE: Trustworthy!

HAMBURGLAR shoves a stack of ballots into the ballot box, then puts two hamburgers in a sack before escaping, pursued by BIG MAC.

ANNOUNCER: Meanwhile, the Hamburglar is stuffing the ballot box... and his pockets!

MCCHEESE: Uhhh, uhhh, how's about a Cheeseburger with every apple pie! (Children cheer this proposal.) Or maybe with every bag of french fries! In every glove compartment!

RONALD: No! No, no, no, no!

MCCHEESE: Every meal! In everybody, y'know!

RONALD counts ballots.

ANNOUNCER: Well, McCheese has been re-elected!

MCCHEESE: Thank you! Thank you, thank you!

RONALD: But nobody can beat a McDonald's cheeseburger!

ASSIGNMENT: Write a short paragraph comparing the events of the commercial to the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. Hints:

1. Notice the twitchy, disoriented candidate running for re-election who has to be fed lines. You may wish to pick a substance that the fictional candidate's head is made from and construct an epithet applying to his real-life counterpart.

2. Notice the campaign promises that sound appealing, but in the end will be bad for all of us.

3. In the ad, the only enemy of McDonaldland who manages to penetrate the nation's borders escapes unpunished. Could this observation serve your allegorical piece?

4. Note that the clear instance of electoral fraud is never rectified, and in fact the ballots are counted by a member of McCheese's own staff.

5. For a real slam-bang ending, express doubt as to which election is more obviously a farcical fiction designed to promote corporate interests.

DOUBLE DUTCH
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EXT. SUBURBAN FRONT YARD--DAY

Multiple generations of middle-class African-Americans enjoy McDonald's food as the 12-to-18-year-old females perform elaborate jump-rope theatrics and chant the following jingle:

Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries / Icy Coke, Thick Shakes, Sundaes, Apple Pie / Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries / Icy Coke, Thick Shakes, Sundaes, Apple Pie / If you're hungry then for goodness sake / Give yourself a tasty break / With Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries / Icy Coke, Thick Shakes, Sundaes, Apple Pie / At McDonald's!

So the history of African-American music goes as follows: slave spirituals, gospel, soul, jazz, R&B, funk, hip hop, Filet-O-Fish.

Maybe I shouldn't make fun of this ad. To their credit, McDonald's was a trailblazer in employing minority actors and portraying all of the races of mankind as one big poorly nourished community. And here they're tearing down the destructive stereotype that only white people can suck at music. But this ad is ultimately a message of hope for all black Americans. It says, "Hey, after a hard day of being so politically and economically disenfranchised that you have to work at McDonald's, you can still afford to eat at McDonald's on your employee discount, and then you can go home and rap about it. You can use all that exercise after walking to and from work, emptying the trash, washing the giant picture windows, and mopping the dining room. We don't mean to keep putting you on cleanup, it's just that Melissa is really good on the register."

ROCKIN' RONALD
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And finally, here's how the McDonald's ads aimed at kids look today.

EXT. CONCERT STAGE--DAY

A rock concert is in progress immediately next to a McDonald's restaurant, starring an all-juvenile band except for RONALD MCDONALD, who does not sing but plays various instruments throughout the following song. The concert is attended entirely by unchaperoned youths, some wearing McDonald's employee uniforms.

Ba-da-ba-ba-bahhh / Oh, I love makin' friends and I love takin' friends around with me / I'm Ronald McDonald and I'm lovin' it (Ba-da-ba-ba-bahhh) / I'm Ronald McDonald and I'm lovin' it . . .

RONALD stage-dives into the crowd, and is deftly moshed back onto the stage, where he strikes a triumphant pose.

To say a lot of changes have occurred would be pretty dipshittedly obvious.

McDonaldland is long gone, remembered only by these kids' parents; the halcyon days when a 10-year-old could enjoy the whimsy of people made out of food without snorting "That's gay!" is a dim memory. Six-year-old boys listen to bands that eight-year-old boys have never heard of and four-year-old boys dismiss as "so VH1." Girls are stampeding away from Barbie to get down with "Bratz: The Dolls That Clock Barbie in Her Bitch-Ass Face With A Tire Iron." This is more than the old cliché about kids growing up so fast: This is a new world order where kids actually enter puberty at horrifyingly low ages, shrinking childhood and blending it with adolescence. And what do you suppose the catalyst for this change is?

Any idea? OK, here it is. It's caused by . . . (drum roll) the hormones in mass-produced meat!!! Ta-dahhhhh! The 21st Century has been brought to you by your neighborhood McDonald's. Enjoy!

Tim Harrod's father and brother are named Ronald and Donald, and it has fucked him up pretty bad.