The closed hand

There has been a great deal of fuss in media and advertising publications this week about the new McDonald’s ad that is not a McDonald’s ad, even though it is. Still with me?

The story goes like this. Mindy Kaling, of the much-loved comedy The Mindy Project appears in a faux ad that mentions Coca Cola and Google, but never the burger chain that paid for the campaign. Instead, the ad instructs you to Google ‘that place where Coke tastes so good’. Oh, and Mindy (who is constantly hungry in the TV series) wears a yellow top and there is a red backdrop. Get it?

Make a fist

This obviously works on a subliminal level and it is squarely aimed at millennials, who are expected to have a Pavlovian response to the mention of food, drink and Google.It’s Derren Brown meets marketing.

But this also plays on an idea that I have long referred to as ‘the closed hand’. As anyone knows, if you make a fist and hold it up like there is something inside, then your children, dog or cat will want to see what is inside. Even adults will emit a Homer Simpson-esque ‘lemme see’ if you do it long enough.

By censoring their own name, McDonald’s do just that. They make you notice their name by not including it. We want to know. They also inspire a good deal of gossip in the trade press, on social media and from cultural commentators. It’s an idea that is easy to replicate and it can work across PR, advertising, campaigning and marketing if it is original and well executed.

The advertisement (or subvertisement, to borrow a counter-culture term) also gives you a dopamine reward hit. This is in much the same as Silk Cut ads or Smirnoff ads have in the past. You have to solve the riddle. You hit up Google and find out who they are talking about. Of course, you knew all along. You’re clever. Pat on the head.

The final thing that this campaign does well is simply being different. Of course, now other brands will ‘me too’ and try to copy it, badly. They ignore the fact that the difference is what caused the stir. I once saw advertising master Dave Trott explain this by illustrating ads as an ever-growing line of drawn circles, because circles sell. You sure notice when someone draws a square.