Yesterday, McDonald's aired a new television spot, a montage of its franchises around the United States using roadside signs to bring attention to people, events, and movements around the country. In place of menu offerings, restaurants in various parts of the country swap in messages of support, like "Thank you veterans," "Boston strong," and "Keep jobs in Toledo."
The commercial, heightened by a children's choir singing Fun's song Carry On, which plays gently in the background, is a disarming minute of mushy corporate propaganda. No harm done, especially since all the touching roadside messages are real. According to McDonald's, the signs have been used at some point, somewhere, over the past 20 years. There's an entire Tumblr page that tells each sign's story.
After the spot ran on Sunday, first during NFL divisional playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers and later during the Golden Globes, social media lit up with snarky disbelief.
McDonald's is right. They're the real heroes.— Josh Gondelman (@joshgondelman) January 12, 2015
McDonald's thinks it's a person, and the person it believes itself to be is a wet-eyed uncle who forwards inspirational/patriotic emails.— David Roth (@david_j_roth) January 11, 2015
I really feel we can all come together as a country over how offensively manipulative and cynical that McDonald's ad is.— Erika Hall (@mulegirl) January 11, 2015
The overarching message in the ad gives the impression that McDonald's is some kind of exemplary model of corporate kindness. Which is great and all, except for the fact that many people associate McDonald's with just the opposite.
Thousands of fast food workers in hundreds of cities around the United States gathered in December protesting low wages. For a bit of perspective, consider that it would take the average McDonald's worker seven months to earn what the company's chief executive earned in an hour in 2013. Even McDonald's own financial advice for its employees has been criticized for what some outlets, including The Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic, view as an unintended suggestion that workers don't earn enough to make a living. McDonald's didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
With dwindling sales, McDonald's has a lot to be worried about right now. It's not clear how the ad campaign helps.