Mickey Digital

vdp The big-faced bottle blonde at right is Julia Vander Ploeg — perfect name! — is the newly appointed digital marketing head for that hoariest and least necessary of all brands, McDonald’s.

Seems that crap peddler is “under intense pressure from Wall Street to improve sales,” per Advertising Age. So, obviously, the answer is to make sure people can Facebook their Big Mac moments.

A Peek at Food Styling

For some reason, after somebody complained about the fact that fast food in real life is much uglier than in advertisements, McDonald’s Canada decided to take us behind the scenes and show us the intricate, “several hours”-long process behind every product photograph they issue.

The tour guide is Hope Bagozzi, head of McD’s marketing in Canada.

Hope’s hope (always wanted to type that) is undoubtedly that her matter-of-fact tone will prevent the audience from actually pondering the remarkable waste and dishonesty of the process she depicts.

Bagozzi really tips her hand near the end, however, when she attempts to claim that the reason the patty in the ads looks so much bigger and prettier than the allegedly non-primped one she buys from the allegedly unaware (yet somehow giggling and supremely compliant) counter workers is the “steam effect” from the box containing the real-world burger! ROFL. Compare that shameless howler to the footage of the “food stylist” lightly browning but distinctly not cooking the advertising patty at the 1:30 mark of the video below. (Why brown the edges if you’re about to cook the burger, as the video, after a strategic cut-away, attempts to suggest has happened?)

The real reason for the huge difference between ad and real burger patties is fat content, which, of course, shrinks and leaves a greasy, gnarly result upon actual frying. McD’s clearly avoids this process in preparing its marketing imagery. So, now we know: Hamburger patties are actually raw in food advertisement close-ups!

In any event, this is a very rare little video. Marketers are loath to lift the veil, even with careful misdirection such as Bagozzi attempts here. Definitely worth a look.

Pushing Pablum With Mental Pablum

McDonalds-Sign Coke isn’t alone, of course. One wonders which will give you diabetes faster — regularly eating the food at McDonald’s, or “following” its Twitter feed.

Marketing news site contently glowingly reports the following:

Aside from when Mickey D’s is promoting its newest products or the comeback of a favorite menu item (McRibs or Shamrock Shakes, anyone?), the Twitter resembles that of any other user. The company posts updates such as, “’If we didn’t have birthdays, you wouldn’t be you. If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?’ Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!” and “Happy Thursday everyone! Hope your day is off to a great start!”

It even re-tweets updates unrelated to the company like “Those small words someone can say that makes your day ten times better. #LittleThings” and “I try to be the 1 person to stand up and do something for someone when everyone else sits and watches. #littlethings.”

It’s fitting that McDonald’s Twitter updates are positive and uplifting, considering that its trademark colors are bright, it serves Happy Meals, and its slogan is “I’m lovin’ it.” The company is all about happiness, and this effectively translates over to its presence on Twitter.

Along with never posting negative content, the McDonald’s Twitter feed is clearly run by everyday people. Its ten Twitter representatives sign their tweets with their initials, posting statuses like “It’s Friday! How is everyone this morning? ^MO” and “Good morning and happy Tuesday! Very grateful for the McCafé Mocha that’s about to help me get my day started! ^MO.”

The advertising is in there, but it’s not so direct — people update their Facebooks or Twitter accounts all the time mentioning restaurants or products. Rick Wion, McDonald’s social media director, told PR Daily, “People want to connect with actual people on Twitter.” Instead of sounding like an automated machine, the company’s account is personal and heartfelt.

Over 300,000 people “follow” this line of brand-building condescension and lies, by the way. “The company is all about happiness!” I’m sure that news will go over really well at the next shareholders meeting.

What a culture we get.

A Very, Very Small Victory

quixote Today, a law that prevents toys from being included in children’s meals that exceed 600 calories and lack fruit or vegetables goes into effect in the City and County of San Francisco. Pushed by liberal lobbying groups like the oxymoronically-named Corporate Responsibility International, the idea behind such ordinances is that regulating happy meal giveaways is somehow a “step forward” in the effort to end childhood obesity and type II diabetes.

The entirely predictable response by fast food marketers? Per Advertising Age:

McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, will stop giving out Hello Kitty figurines or any other toys with its Happy Meals in San Francisco starting tomorrow because of a new city ordinance.

“A law was passed recently that means we cannot give away a free toy with our Happy Meals” at the 19 McDonald’s stores in San Francisco, [McDonald’s] spokeswoman Danya Proud said in an e-mailed statement today. Parents can buy a toy for 10 cents along with a Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal, she said.

Wow! The revolution is upon us now, isn’t it?

But, seriously, what a mess. In the name of the patently silly idea that free toys are a major cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, activists have succeeded in enacting what will amount to a ten cent tax on poor people. Meanwhile, those same poor people will absolutely continue to buy happy meals, for the same old reasons, which are far larger and deeper than the mere unawareness attributed to them by the gesturing activists lobbying for addlepated regulations.

Personally, I’d wager the dime charge might actually do the very opposite of what the toy-banners thought they were accomplishing. By raising the topic of whether or not to get a toy and by associating it with a price, mightn’t the new arrangement make the toy forbidden (but not really) fruit, and hence an even better vehicle for inculcating brand loyalty?

In the process, the contortions needed to pretend that the SF happy meal law is anything but a pointless pose forces otherwise excellent people to become liars:

[McDonald’s move to offer toys for a dime is] “Proof positive, and completely admitted by McDonalds, that no customer will buy a Happy Meal unless it comes with a toy,” Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, told CBS News in an email.

Dr. Nestle, people aren’t stupid. If the toys were absent, a great many people would most certainly still buy happy meals. So, why insist the contrary? Are you trying to discredit the idea of creating a better society?

The prevalence of fast food is a symptom, not the disease.

“Made With” Lies

Big business advertising is the art and science of tricking people into thinking and reacting your way. Lies are an absolute staple of the trade.

One major form of lying in advertising is the use of sly linguistic insertions, such as the ubiquitous “up to” gambit — as in the verbal bait-and-switch “save up to [X] percent.”

A slim but dense volume could be composed on this subject.  And, as the late Robert L. Heilbroner once remarked,

At a business forum, I was once brash enough to say that I thought the main cultural impact of television advertising was to teach children that grown-ups told lies for money. How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?

One of the most egregious new marketing campaigns in the blatant lie division is McDonald’s “See What We’re Made Of” series.

The ads are an attempt to portray McDonald’s fare as healthy and wholesome.  Not only do they deploy pictures like this:

They also do things like describe Chicken McNuggets as “made with white meat.”

The key phrase there is “made with.”

What is the full ingredient list of Chicken McNuggets?  It ain’t exactly white meat, bread crumbs and simple cooking oil:

Chicken McNuggets®:
White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, chicken flavor (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent). [Link]

As Charlotte Gerson notes:

There are 38 ingredients in a McNugget; many of them made from corn. Further down the list there are the mono, diandtriglycerides, and the emulsifiers that keep the fats and the water from separating. More corn flour is used to make the batter, and the hydrogenated oil in which the nuggets are fried can come from soybeans, canola or cottonseed, depending on the market price.

It gets worse: a number of the ingredients come from petroleum products, to keep the items from spoiling or ‘looking strange’ after months in the freezer or on the road. If you are truly worried, look up these ingredients: sodium aluminum phosphate; mono-calcium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and calcium lactate. These are used to keep the animal and vegetable fats from turning rancid. Then there are “anti foaming” agents like dimethylpolysiloxene. According to the Handbook of Food Additives, this material is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigenic, and reproductive effector. It is also flammable.

The most alarming ingredient in Chicken McNuggets is “tertiary butyl hydroquinone,” or TBHQ, derived from petroleum. This is sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “help preserve freshness.” Again, according to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food. It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Ingesting five grams can be fatal.