Storytelling roars back in new DDB McDonald’s spots

Scene from McDonald’s new “Lovely Girl” spot

It’s hard to believe, but the McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” ad campaign will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.  Whatever its fate from here on out, “I’m Lovin’ It” already is the longest-running ad campaign and tagline in the history of the fast-food behemoth.

Hard to believe, indeed.

Because when “I’m Lovin’ It,” debuted in 2003 in Germany, and then a bit later in the United States, it was nothing like what comprises the “I’m Lovin It” campaign McDonald’s uses today. At the time, we wouldn’t have suspected for a second that “I’m Lovin’ It” could outlive other, more resonant McDonald’s campaigns from decades past.

Back then, when it began, “I’m Lovin’ It” was little more than a slickly-produced jumble of nondescript imagery and hip-hop and rock music desperately in search of a coherent message.

Though it was hard to know at the time that  “I’m Lovin’ It” began, McDonald’s and its then global chief marketing officer, Larry Light, actually weren’t interested in coherence and resonance or the storytelling that had been so much a part of McDonald’s marketing for decades.

Ad professionals disdained earlier ads

Larry Light, McDonald’s former global marketing chiefAt the time, Light just wanted to send a message that McDonald’s was changing — and for the first time in a while making a concerted effort to appeal to a younger demographic that had, to a large extent, been overlooked in favor of moms and their kids.

Well, the hip-hop era of “I’m Lovin’ It” played itself out after a year or two — though not before it earned the deep disdain of many advertising professionals who were part of the McDonald’s teams at DDB/Chicago and Leo Burnett/Chicago. Those core shops were then — and still are — the masterminds of much of McDonald’s advertising in the United States.

Now that we have the long view looking back at the beginning of “I’m Lovin’ It,” perhaps those disdainful ad pros may have been all too justified in copping the attitude they did.

If the advertising McDonald’s is doing currently is any indication,  McDonald’s now seems much less intent on winning over younger generations with the kind of disjointed advertising that plays well to those with severely short attention spans. 

Indeed, the most recent McDonald’s brand advertising work from DDB/Chicago indicates storytelling has come roaring back.  Well maybe not roaring. But definitely making a comeback in a way few could have predicted seven or eight years ago.

New spot has right attitude and marketing smarts

Take, for example, the new “Lovely Girl” McDonald’s spot from DDB/Chicago.  Eschewing the more blatant sentimentality of some of the great McDonald’s advertising from the 1980’s and 1990’s, “Lovely Girl” has just the right degree of modern-day attitude needed to make it palatable to today’s more jaded audiences all across the age spectrum.

But most importantly, “Lovely Girl” is a savvy bit of marketing as well, because the spot manages to tell a clever, believable story while also promoting Chicken McNuggets, one of the fast food chain’s most popular menu items.

“Lovely Girl” opens with a young man in line to order at McDonald’s. He is making goo-goo eyes at a young lady eating her meal.  Clearly sensing an opportunity but initially unsure how to take advantage of it, the young man is in luck.

A considerably older, observant gentleman materializes behind him to suggest he purchase a large pack of McNuggets, then sit down next to the young woman and offer her the chicken bits. “Offer to share them. A conversation begins,” says the romantic adviser.  When the young man declares the advice “pretty smart,” the elder statesman suavely declares “I’ve been around.”

Aficionados of McDonald’s advertising will know that the older man’s last line makes sense because he was seen successfully wooing a woman that had eluded a couple of other feisty codgers in a previous McDonald’s spot called “Joe and Frank.”  That spot too put loads of personality and story front and center and was a hit with viewers.

So now, not only is McDonald’s openly embracing the glories of story-driven advertising once again, it’s even managing to tie together commercials with recurring characters. We’re lovin’ it!

High concept storytelling in Scotland-set spot

There’s yet another McDonald’s high-concept, story-driven commercial from DDB/Chicago that has debuted in recent weeks called “Wind.”  This epic spot demonstrates in rather fanciful terms the potency of the McDonald’s french fries scent.

In “Wind,” a strong wind carries the fries scent from Manhattan to a rocky promontory on the coast of Scotland.  (It surely is no coincidence the fries scent winds up in Scotland.  DDB chief creative officer Ewan Paterson hails from there).  On that Scottish promontory, a bagpiper catches a whiff of the fries and promptly declares it’s time to head to McDonald’s.

“Wind” is a bit more farfetched than “Lovely Girl,” but the point is made about the potent appeal of McDonald’s french fries. And as good storytelling should, the spot does keep us guessing exactly how it will play out.

So with “Wind” and “Lovely Girl” out there now, let’s now see how far back to the future McDonald’s is willing to go with this concerted push to tell more stories that artfully promote the McDonald’s brand and its products.

Contact Lewis Lazare at