Playing with Emotions

Festive seasons are great for branding content with the general stage for emotions set. While we see lots of Christmas season ads and Chinese New Year ads, there are relatively fewer branding ads in Singapore during the Ramadan period. So it is a great initiative for McDonald’s to own this space with their spots yearly, enjoying the excess share of voice (ESoV) when competitors are only focusing on tactical sales ads.

The setting is easily relatable with borders between Singapore and Malaysia having closed due to Covid-19. Many Malaysian workers chose to stay in Singapore for the sake of livelihood and had not been able to go home to their families for more than a year. So it even more difficult for them during the Ramadan period as they are unable to have their iftar (breaking fast) together.

In the end, there are touching moments when these affected employees of McDonald’s got to have their¬†iftar with their families through a large video conferencing projection that connects their tables together.

So why is it that I see the emotions portrayed but I do not feel emotionally connected?

Brands must never be the Hero in Storytelling.

The most common mistake in brand storytelling is having the brand as the hero. Employees have a problem. McDonald’s saves the day. As viewers, we identify with the employees and their plight. The conclusion we get is that we are helpless but for McDonald’s.

First of all, we all have had a year of “zooming”. Video conferencing is now a part of our lives. Sure, having the large projection to connect the tables do add to the touch but it is not groundbreaking. More importantly though, everyone wants to be the hero. If McDonald’s is the hero, why would we feel connected to the story?

Why is McDonald’s depicted as the hero? Fundamentally, there is no conflict for the protagonists. There is no “journey” taken by the employees, no efforts to address their problem. The basic principle in storytelling is that when there is no conflict, there is no story.

And since the audience identifies with the employees, we also do not embark on a journey. Therefore, we do not get any payoff from the video. No emotional connection, no immense satisfaction.

When there is no conflict, there is no story.

Contrast it with another video from Thailand with a similar setting. The employees are not able to spend Mother’s Day with their mums.

Same same but different. 

Here, a very powerful technique is used: Questions.

The employees are given questions. We cannot see their answers although we can guess from their expressions. But unknowingly, we start to answer the questions ourselves too. This draws us into the story effectively and we instantaneously become one of the employees.

The brand provided the platform, but the employees brought their mums. They ate with them, converse with them and passed them their “answers” to tell them what they have not told them before. The effort is from the employees. Bar-BQ Plaza is merely the “sidekick” for the employees to be the heroes. And they end off with a subtle sales message of offering the same platform for us the viewers to do the same for our mums.

This small difference creates a HUGE impact. We journeyed with the employees, we gained the payoff (of happy moments with family) and now we are inspired to do so in real life with our mums. Brilliant storytelling.

So what could have been done in the McDonald’s video to make it better?

One possibility (staying on the same track) is to show how the employees have been using video calls on the phone (effort). Perhaps they can approach their supervisor to appeal for the use of a computer. THEN McDonald’s supports them by going beyond and setting up the projection for them.

Perhaps we can also zoom in to the problem of not having interacted with the one-year old child for a year. The father can make a french fry disappear and the mum can make one appear on the other side for the kid to “receive” the present.

Adding these efforts to overcome the obstacle provides the “conflict” that makes the payoff valuable. And McDonald’s brand value will grow in the minds of the audience.