If you were like me, you sat down with friends and family to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics this year. I always enjoy the pageantry of such a rare global event. And as a former ad guy, I also love to watch the ads.
A commercial that stood out for me this year was the beautifully crafted story of the recent McDonald's campaign. It begins with an acoustic cover of Cindy Lauper's opus, "Time After Time," and while this song plays in the background, your television screen is split to show you two separate, yet divinely connected stories. The left side of your screen shows you a cute little boy growing up in the late 70's... and on the right side, an adorable little red headed girl living in present day 2016.
We then watch this little boy pass his favorite toys through our split screen as they morph from vintage to the contemporary when received by the little girl -- toys like his Atari Joy Stick, BMX bike, and his cherished stuffed puppy. And this theme of passing trinkets through time helps us understand that McDonald's is as timeless in our lives as our own childhood.
The end of this wonderful story shows you how this little boy grows into fatherhood and is now taking his own precious little red headed daughter to McDonald's. And the voice over then announces. "We all want what is best for our kids. Introducing the new Chicken McNugget. It's made with 100 percent white meat chicken, and no artificial colors, flavors... and now, no artificial preservatives."
End scene. And here is your tissue.
The ad guy in me was jumping up and down like Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch. This is why ad agencies will always be so important -- they create beautiful stories that elevate brands, while simultaneously connecting them to their audience. In that regard, this ad was simply brilliant. Kudos, Leo Burnett. Wow.
If, however, you were expecting brand transparency in this story, you would be as disappointed as I was. As someone who has spent the past year presenting a talk called "The Power of Honesty," I can say with confidence that McDonald's is not telling us the full story here.
My immediate question as I watched this ad -- what are we supposed to dip these new nuggets in? To be clear, the sauce has yet to make the leap into similar transparency. So dipping our new nuggets into the old sauce is like sipping a Diet Coke through a straw made of sugar -- it's incongruent and feckless.
McDonald's is obviously moving in the right direction, in myriad ways, I might add. I just wish it would trust us a bit more and tell us the entire story -- not just the good parts (pun intended). We cannot be a little bit transparent today; it is like whispering loudly -- it simply doesn't work.
Brands that embrace honesty and transparency today are many and varied, but they are not yet the standard. Challenger brands like Patagonia, Raven & Lily, Reformation, American Giant, Eileen Fisher, Amy's, The Honest Company, et al, understand transparency. These brave brands embrace honesty when telling their stories to the public. They share the good, the bad, and what they are working on. They understand that every corporation has deleterious byproduct in one capacity or another, and yet they choose to disclose and share these findings with us, as opposed to hiding them behind brilliantly created ad campaigns. They also understand that beautiful words can be a costume for lies if they only tell part of the story.
Advertising will always remain a wonderful platform for story telling. The only difference as I see it, comes from the simple, yet complex move to transparency. The good news, bad news -- transparency is like falling asleep: It is going to happen to you. Our only choice is whether or not we want to participate. Do we go to bed when we are tired like big boys and girls, or do we fall asleep behind the wheel? It is our choice. Which one will we choose?