Will McDonald’s live the spirit of its ads?

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SHARE Will McDonald’s live the spirit of its ads?

Have you seen the new McDonald’s ad, the one with the signs below the golden arches that say all those heartfelt things?

The sign we like most says this: “Keep jobs in Toledo.”

Why?

Because the owner of that particular McDonald’s franchise, Luke Humbard, apparently means what he says and walks the talk.

EDITORIAL

Humbard, according to McDonald’s on an associated Tumblr account, put up the message right after it was announced that a big factory in Toledo might move a product line out of town, which would put a lot of people out of work. Humbard offers a discount to local workers who come by for lunch.

Humbard has waded into the real lives of his customers, if only about knee-deep. Maybe, we can’t help but think, he actually cares.

If McDonald’s continues with this rather brilliant advertising campaign, this is where it has to go — deeper and deeper into social responsibility, community connectivity and authenticity.

If McDonald’s fails to do so, the ad campaign will be nothing more than what critics already say it is: a crass exploitation of tragedies. But if McDonald’s follows through in the spirit of the ads, finding new ways to serve up a bigger dose of humanity with its burgers, it could set a welcome standard for other big retailers.

And, of course, McDonald’s will sell even more burgers.

So where are you going with this thing, Ronald?

In the one-minute TV spot, created by the Chicago-based advertising agency Leo Burnett, McDonald’s features a selection of messages posted outside McDonald’s restaurants in the United States. Some of the messages are political, such as “We Remember 9/11.” Others are sweet and benign, such as “Happy 95 birthday Woody.” A particularly powerful message is “Boston Strong,” referring to the marathon race bombing that killed three people.

The ad is getting ripped on social media. “Welcome to McDonald’s,” wrote a sarcastic tweeter named Nick. “We remember 9/11, can I take your order?”

The company now says it anticipated some backlash, though you would expect it to say that. “We’ve seen some strong praise and some negative comments,” a McDonald’s spokesman said in an official statement. “We expect that, and welcome it.”

But advertising pros uniformly seem to love it, saying all the best ads stir emotions. It is a remarkable change in strategy, they say, for a company that long thrived on escapism — “I’m loving it!” — to step so strongly into the real world, where not everybody is loving it. The ad even includes a McDonald’s sign that was demolished in a storm.

The best way to sell more of a product is to sell a better product, and McDonald’s has plenty of work to do there. But there is no doubt that a company’s image — its branding — matters. Develop a reputation as an enlightened and caring company — as Starbucks has done by, in part, treating its employees relatively well — and it can carry you through the hard times. All things equal, most folks will take their car to the corner mechanic who sponsors their kid’s baseball team.

None of this directly addresses the continued complaints about McDonald’s from, among others, healthy food advocates, animal rights groups and unions demanding higher wages. But it is all of a piece.

How McDonald’s responds to such concerns will tell us much about just how serious that new ad is.

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