Why Mindy Kaling Is Doing Ads for McDonald’s That Never Mention McDonald’s

Campaign also uses Google, but not like Burger King did

Headshot of Tim Nudd

McDonald’s new commercials don’t appear on the brand’s YouTube, Facebook or Twitter pages. And they never even mention the name McDonald’s, preferring instead to name-check Coca-Cola and Google.

It’s all part of a sly campaign by Omnicom agency We Are Unlimited to appeal to teens and twentysomethings, who prefer word-of-mouth and their own research about products and brands to corporate messaging, according to a writeup of the campaign in The New York Times.

The campaign does, however, feature a celebrity, the actress Mindy Kaling, who in several TV spots urges viewers to Google “that place where Coke tastes so good.” Kaling is wearing a yellow dress against a red background in the minimalist ads, but beyond those McDonald’s brand colors, she doesn’t actually say the name of the fast-food chain.

The campaign supports a promotion in which McDonald’s is selling any size drink for $1. On-screen text at the end of the spots mentions the offer, but again, not the brand.

Check out two spots here:

The cutesy approach is still, of course, corporate messaging. But it is a data-led approach that’s designed to lean into digital behavior that millennials already engage in while watching TV—mostly, surfing on their phones. (The campaign itself extends to digital, with Kaling tweeting about the campaign on Friday, asking to be paid in fries. She tweeted about the campaign again Monday night.)

Coincidentally, the work comes a week after Burger King also employed Google in a campaign, airing a TV ad that hijacked some people’s voice-activated Google Home devices and got them talking about the Whopper. Google was not involved in BK’s effort—in fact, it disabled at least one version of the BK spot from triggering Google Homes—but it was involved in the McDonald’s effort.

The Times spoke to Deborah Wahl, evidently before she stepped down as chief marketing officer of McDonald’s, who said Google was helping McDonald’s with data monitoring aspects of the Kaling campaign, but wasn’t messing in any way with the real search results for “that place where Coke tastes so good.”

“Google didn’t give us any tricks on search or anything,” Wahl said. “What they’re helping us do is understand if people are really searching as a result of this, and offering close feedback and collaboration in terms of what’s happening with this with real behavior.”

Searches for “that place where Coke tastes so good” do indeed lead to a slew of results about McDonald’s—the special way in which McDonald’s serves Coke has been the subject of many articles over the years—though stories about the Kaling campaign itself are starting to creep up toward the top of the results.

BK’s Google Home stunt suffered (or benefited, depending on your point of view) from people rewriting the Whopper’s Wikipedia page in unpleasant ways. But Wahl said she wasn’t concerned about Google’s search results for “that place where Coke tastes so good” evolving into anything negative.

She added that Kaling was chosen as pitchwoman because she’s a known fan of the brand.

“If you follow me on any kind of social media you will see that I’m constantly eating McDonald’s, and not in a campy, skinny-actress way where I go when I’m on my period and ‘being bad!’ ” Kaling wrote in her memoir. “I go regularly enough that the woman at the Crescent Heights & Sunset McDonald’s gives me ranch and buffalo sauce packets for my McNuggets without me having to ask.”

McDonald’s also partnered with The Mindy Project this season, as her character was shown eating McDonald’s at her desk in a few episodes at the end of the season.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.