Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shut the Hell Up About Your Sweet Tea: An Open Letter to the Account Executive in Charge of McDonald’s Advertising

Jim Ferguson
McDonald’s Corp. Creative Consultant
Executive Vice President, DDB Chicago
DDB Chicago
200 East Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Mr. Ferguson,
I am writing to express my disgust with your most recent attempts at creativity as an account executive at DDB Chicago. The account to which I am specifically referring is that of the McDonald’s Corporation. To be honest, whenever I see a television commercial or billboard that is a part of the “Mickey D’s Sweet Tea” campaign, I am overcome with the urge to vomit. I understand that you have extensive qualifications in the advertising industry, but I interned for a summer at an advertising agency in Atlanta, and I took a senior-level promotion strategies class while I was an undergraduate in college. Also, I am a seasoned consumer of television content, so I think I know a thing or two when it comes to advertising.

I’ll give it to you straight: advertisements for McDonald’s sweet tea are lame, especially in the South, a region famed for their affinity for the beverage. These advertisements are ill-conceived for a multitude of reasons, a few of which I will expound upon below:

First, consumers associate McDonald’s with food items such as hamburgers, french fries, chicken nuggets with questionable chicken content, and occasionally, the McRib sandwich. I’ll even concede that there may be some individuals that specifically think of McDonald’s brand when it comes to sweets (the McFlurry) and healthy eating (even though the salads are the most fattening thing on the menu, the parfaits are full of sugar and I never really got the whole “fruit buzz” campaign – but that’s another letter in and of itself). But tea? That logic is along the same line as expecting consumers to come to McDonald’s because they want a Diet Coke. If I want a Diet Coke, I’ll go to the store, or the gas station, or Burger King. I won’t go to Taco Bell, because they serve Pepsi products, but you get my point. It is thrilling that McDonald’s serves Coke products that I can order when I’m getting my hamburger and fries, but I promise you, I will never be sitting in my house thinking, “I’m thirsty for a Diet Coke. I think I’ll go to McDonald’s.”

Just as you would leave the Coke promotions up to the Coca-Cola Company, why don’t you let Lipton handle the marketing for tea? Are the tea leaves that are used to brew McDonald’s tea McDonald’s-brand leaves? Is there a significant reason why consumers should drink McDonald’s sweet tea instead of Celestial Seasonings? Does the target demographic for McDonald’s brand include tea aficionados? If not, what is the purpose of trying to create an association between the McDonald’s brand and a generic beverage?

Now that we’ve discussed the flawed logic for the general campaign, let’s take a closer look at the commercial using the grandmother who is secretly serving her family McDonald’s sweet tea rather than brewing her own. Not only is the idea that a grandmother would deceive her family morally repugnant, the archetypal grandmother would never fake any cuisine she serves to her family. I am not aware of whether this campaign is strictly regional or nationwide, but I do know it is being run in the South. As a Southern woman, I’m mildly insulted. Have you ever visited the South, Jim? It’s true, we do like our sweet tea, but it’s the home-brewed kind with lots of sugar. We’ll drink tea at a restaurant and do so happily, but let’s not pretend that restaurant-brewed tea passes for the real thing. This commercial could only be worse if you had somehow rewritten the famous “two-all-beef-patties” jingle and made it about sweet tea.

The professor that taught my promotional strategies class in college instructed us to begin an evaluation of an ad campaign by completing the statement, “This would make a good advertisement if…” So here’s the statement that begins my evaluation of “Mickey D’s Sweet Tea”: “This would make a good advertisement if consumers made food choices based on the quality of tea available at the establishment in question.”

Do you really think the gastrointestinal preferences of fast food patrons are going to be dictated by the choice of tea at an eating establishment? DDB Chicago should focus on helping McDonald’s win the Big Mac v. Whopper debate using a campaign that will also manage to help kids forget that the McDonald’s mascot is a creepy clown.

I understand that ego can sometimes get in the way of clearly evaluating one’s own work, but hopefully, my insight can be instrumental in stopping the pain that is generally associated with viewing any elements of this campaign. I’m in the process of pursuing my master’s degree in Communication, but considering your dire creative situation, I could be persuaded to make time for some freelance creative consulting on the side. Feel free to contact me via email or by phone for further assistance.

Best wishes in future creative endeavors.



Matt Collins said...

As a connoisseur of sweet tea, I am inclined to agree with your sentiment. I myself have experimented with the use of brown sugar and even sugar in the raw in my homemade sweet tea, and I have wondered if I should open a sweet tea stand outside of certain establishments to show them what sweet tea is really meant to be.

By the way, it's good to read your intellectual snobbery again.

Ferg said...

I just ran across this article addressed to me. I don't know what the hell you are talkin about.
Jim Ferguson

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LoriJill said...

I have to comment that I totally disagree with this article. I am from South Carolina, and I think McDonald's idea to market our sweet tea was ingenius. I can now travel with peace of mind, knowing that I don't have to go through sweet tea withdrawl any longer. All I have to do is find a McDonald's! Although water was healthier for me, it would always get a little boring after the first week. What was even worse, was when I'd ask a server (just to be sure) and they'd say "well, there's sugar on the table", or god forbid they would offer me some bottled or fountain tea (like that's the same thing!?!-not). If you were from here, or spent anytime here, you would understand our obsession with sweet tea. Lastly, I'm sure if you look at McDonald's COS on a glass of sweet tea that they sell for a whole $1, it makes perfect business sense too. I often think "I'd love a glass of tea" and head to McDonald's drive thru, because buying it that way is about the only other option if I don't already have it brewed at home. It's not the same as a soda that you can buy at any grocery store or gas station on nearly every corner. I applaud McDonald's for helpig us out on this one, and I'm sure their sales have shown our gratitude!