Mixed Blessings

The Mighty McDonald’s, Cheap and Proud of It, Heavyweight Humor, Etc.

Nothing like academic denunciation to restore one’s confidence. Amid high-level shake-ups and agency shifts, McDonald’s executives may not feel like masters of the mealtime universe. But they can take solace in knowing the company’s critics regard it as omnipotent. Witness a communiquƒ from Penn State about a new book by Dr. Joe Kincheloe, professor of cultural studies and pedagogy. “The manipulation of media has allowed McDonald’s a level of access to human consciousness never before imagined by the most powerful dictator, Kincheloe says.” Another part of the bulletin quotes Kincheloe thusly: “Described as ‘the ultimate icon of Americana,’ a ‘cathedral of consumption’ where Americans practice their ‘consumer religion,’ McDonald’s, like Disneyland, transcends status as mere business establishment.” Not too bad for a company that’s had trouble getting people to buy 55-cent hamburgers.

Your impecunious client can’t afford a splashy, four-color spread? Then treat its modest budget as a point of honor. That is what Howard, Merrell & Partners did in creating a campaign for Triangle Family Services, a United Way outfit operating in the agency’s home city of Raleigh, N.C. Publicizing a credit-counseling service for people who are chronically in debt, an ad notes approvingly the fiscal discipline shown in buying such a small amount of media space. Needless to say, ad agencies wouldn’t care to see this practice gain popularity among their paying customers, but it’s an exemplary ploy for pro bono accounts.

Either France is getting smaller or the cyclists are getting faster. With posters created for the Tour de France finish in Paris, Nike paid tribute (via agency KesselsKramer of Amsterdam) to the increasing power of big-time bicycle racers. But if the cyclists zoom past so quickly, will the human eye be able to detect the corporate logos on their jerseys?

Fact 1: Your fast-food chain’s best-known burger is named “the Champ.” Fact 2: Mike Tyson has just bitten off a chunk of heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield’s ear. It takes a bold burger chain to put those facts together in a commercial, but Florida-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants was up to the challenge. TV spots by Mendelsohn/Zien of Los Angeles use onscreen supers (intercut with shots of the beefy burger) to mock Tyson’s toothy pugilism. “Hey Mike,” one spot wisecracks, “next time you bite a Champ, at least get some fries.” Touting the massive size of the Champ, another spot tells Tyson that “Nobody can put away this Champ in two bites. Not even you.” Given that self-control seems not to be one of Tyson’s strengths, one can question the wisdom of antagonizing him with commercials like these. But in today’s brawling burger wars, you can’t afford to play it safe.