McDonald’s in Pop Culture: The Analysis of Changes in Commercials

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In the 20th century, advertising consisted of radio infomercials and TV commercials with storylines. According to Quartz, the first official TV commercial aired on July 1, 1941. It was a commercial for Bulova Watch Co.

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and it cost only $9 total to air it. These days, a commercial can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands and Super Bowl Ads can be priced up to $5 million. McDonald’s is one of the biggest advertisers and on average spends $2 billion annually. They are also one of the biggest fast food chains in the world and a substantial factor for their success is marketing. One of the most important concepts McDonald’s introduced was called McDonaldland. Launched in 1971, McDonaldland was implemented as an advertising campaign to advertise McDonald’s. McDonaldland was a fictional magical world consisting of Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, and food-based characters like Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac. With the internet and social media being a major part of this generation, advertisers have been forced to change their way of marketing products and services. Change in pop culture has affected techniques such as characters, plot, time, and slogans in advertising over time.

Fictional characters played a big role in capturing the interests of kids in advertising. McDonald’s used food-based and other characters to market their products. In an older McDonald’s commercial, they used the characters Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, and the Hamburgers. Willard Scott who had played Bozo the Clown prior created Ronald McDonald. After Bozo went off air following years of popularity among kids, a local McDonald’s asked him to create a clown to replace Bozo and Scott came up with Ronald McDonald (Scott, 1983). Before clowns were considered sinister and disturbing, clowns symbolized delight and glee for children. Clowns were popular, and children loved them. For children to see a clown on television, it brought them joy and captured their attention. Ronald McDonald is still known today, however, he and other characters stopped appearing in commercials due to the fall of McDonaldLand. He’s just known as the mascot of McDonald’s and represents the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Additionally, for McDonald’s to have incorporated fictional characters like these in their commercials, they were catering to trends at the time. Amusement parks such as Disneyland were the place to go and have a magical day with the family. Incorporating a fictional world into their commercials gave a sense of that type of magic for children. McDonald’s could too be the happiest place on earth just like Disneyland.

In contrast, celebrity endorsements are now used to grab the attention of teens and adults. Specifically, this commercial targeted those who are sports orientated in contrary to targeting children in the past commercial. Therefore, athletes LeBron James and Dwight Howard starred in this commercial, instead of fictional characters like Ronald McDonald in the past commercials. In the era of social media, celebrity endorsements are extremely popular. For example, Weight Watchers has used DJ Khaled, Oprah Winfrey, and Jessica Simpson to advertise their service. These types of influencers help brands gain popularity because of their enormous fanbases. In this case, McDonald’s uses LeBron James and Dwight Howard in this recent commercial because they have a huge following on social media and are considered healthy and physically fit. McDonald’s uses these tactics to gain popularity for their products and to ironically showcase that eating McDonald’s isn’t as unhealthy as it seems.

Storylines were used to grab the interests of kids in advertising. The older McDonald’s commercial was set in Hamburger University. Ronald McDonald was teaching hamburgers about the Hamburglar and how he steals hamburgers. The structure of this commercial was similar to the formatting of cartoons and children shows in the 70s and 80s. For example, Sesame Street was a children’s show that educated children academically and introduced moral values. Through teaching, this commercial advocated against stealing, an action that is considered morally wrong. Ronald McDonald caught the Hamburglar and taught him and the audience not to steal hamburgers. Hamburglar is shown writing Don’t take hamburgers. Robble Robble. in detention. The theme of the commercial may suggest that stealing is wrong. However, it could be showing children that the hamburgers are delicious to the point that they are a target of burglary. As a result, McDonald’s could be using this format to insinuate, Don’t steal hamburgers, go to McDonald’s and buy them instead. When this commercial aired, society revolved around television. Using a format of a children’s TV shows was effective in gaining a child’s attention.

On the other hand, now commercials are venturing off from plots and are leaning towards quick-paced ads to target those with a shorter attention span. Due to the existence of the internet and technology, people have become less attentive and are focused on convenience. In this more recent commercial, Dwight Howard challenges LeBron James to a game for his lunch, a Big Mac and fries. In the midst of playing basketball, someone else quickly comes and eats the food. Dwight Howard and LeBron James were left in awe once they’ve realized that the food was completely eaten. This commercial doesn’t have a plot in contrary to the past commercial. However, the underlying theme is similar in both commercials. The older commercial insinuates the deliciousness of the hamburgers by showing someone is willing to steal them. And the newer commercial tries to imply that McDonald’s is good by showing that people are willing to fight over their food.

The time these commercials aired and the time gap between them played a major part in why they were made the way they were made. The older commercial was released in 1989, in the age where television was popular. Children were not glued to their phones or technology. Instead, they only had the outside or television. This made children the target of interest for advertisers. Additionally, they had a disposable income, large purchasing influence, and were easily targeted with ads. The more recent commercial was released in 2010, in the midst of the existence of social media and the world wide web. Teens, adults, and even children are actively using technology. Teens are especially are constantly on social media. By using the celebrities that teens follow on social media, teens are an easy target for advertisers. In McDonald’s case, LeBron James and Dwight Howard have huge followings on social media, 50 million followers combined on Twitter alone. With the use of association, McDonald’s attached their brand to LeBron James and Dwight Howard’s name and using their heavy influence over social media to help gain more popularity for their brand. Society today is social media based, using social media influencers is more effective to advertise a brand. Additionally, using such short advertisements shows how society is impatient and runs on convenience.

Furthermore, since the two commercials were aired about 30 years apart, the production value differs greatly. In their first advertising campaign, McDonald’s spent an unprecedented $2.3 million. In contrast, McDonald’s spent around $530 million on advertising in 2017. The number of mediums to advertise has increased since the older commercial has aired. It isn’t just TV anymore, now there are advertisements on YouTube videos, social media, web pages, apps, etc. This ties back into people these days having short attention spans. McDonald’s advertisements on YouTube videos or any video lasts at most 15 seconds. Additionally, most advertisements on social media or web pages are generally images or a link to their app and site. The advertisements pop up rather quickly and go away just as fast which caters to short attention spans, persuading in a short period of time making the audience feel less obligated to turn it off. In contrary to the past commercial, McDonald’s used to focus mainly on television along with newspapers and radio. Newspapers and radio were the social media and internet of the past. Overall, based on the major differences of these two commercials’ production values, it is clear that today’s technological advancements assist in drawing a significant number of viewers for McDonald’s commercials than advertisements products in their very early advertising campaigns.

McDonald’s slogans have changed at the launch of every advertising campaign. In the older commercial, McDonald’s uses the slogan From McDonald’s. In the more recent commercial, McDonald’s uses I’m Lovin’ It. In 2003, Justin Timberlake sang a song for McDonald’s that introduced the slogan I’m Lovin’ It. Compared to the older slogan and all other slogans, I’m Lovin’ It was well received and is the longest running slogan that McDonald’s has ever had. However, slogans were still used in both commercials as an advertising tactic. They both implement the logo consisting of two golden arches that create an M. The only difference is the placement of the logo. In the older commercial, Ronald McDonald makes the logo shape with his hands and the logo appears on the bottom right. In the more recent commercial, it cuts to a red screen and then the logo appears in the center. The logo is much bigger and more centered now to make it much more obvious.

In conclusion, advertising techniques such as characters, plot, time and slogans have changed over time due to the influence of pop culture. Fictional characters played a major part in commercials in the past to target children whilenow celebrity endorsements are used. In the older commercial, having a storyline was a critical component to keep children engaged. However, in the newer commercial, shorter fast-paced commercials keep the audience from clicking off. Time has affected the mediums in which McDonald’s advertise and the amount of money they put into advertising. Slogans have changed, but the logo has remained similar since then. Pop culture has greatly affected advertising through the advancements in technology.

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