If it Doesn’t Kill Ya

January 5, 2008

Adbusters have always had this problem. Brands love criticism – all publicity is good publicity – and parody is the highest form of flattery.

Artist, Steve Lambert, teamed up with EyeBeam in NYC, to hijack and close all 85 of the Manhatten McDonalds restaurants – See above. There’s a video of the performance below.

The project ‘Ronald’s Crisis’ is lovely example on how to hack social concerns, but the target needs to be understood. Brands are not people – people have feelings.

Steve has a great ‘artists’ statement on his website:-

For me, art is a bridge that connects uncommon, idealistic, or even radical ideas with everyday life. I carefully craft various conditions where I can discuss these ideas with people and have a mutually meaningful exchange. Often this means working collaboratively with the audience, bringing them into the process or even having them physically complete the work.

Spoken like a true marketing man.

The thing is that McDonalds Restaurants are franchises – someone has to pay to run a McDonalds store. If you want to influence the Brand, appeal to the guy who is trying to make a living from being part of a chain. Attacking a franchise means that some guy/gal is having his income damaged – and that get’s personal – really personal – we all have bills.

This guy/gal is also in no position to change the menu, they have less influence than the customers. If anything the store owner is going tobe more resilient to negative feedback, it’ll make him/her stronger – more wary, more defensive.

Sarah Nelson Wright has done a smart write up here.

Because the project is in the street, in the environment we live in, and it transforms that environment, it impacts us differently than, say, reading an article that tells me McDonald’s is bad (which, according to Steve, we all already know). It intervenes at the moment of the behavior, collapsing the distance between our theoretical lives and the lives we actually live. Because the story is so dynamic and unusual, it lingers in our thoughts: it visits me as I shop at another corporate outlet; I tell the story to people I like to amuse. Interestingly, Steve said that his biggest audience is not the people in the street; it’s the people who read about the event on the internet.

I think this is really interesting – how you can use point-of-sale as experiencial that is worth sharing through correspondance, blogs, etc. The media from the performance is the catalyst for awareness; repackage the age old message (junk food is bad for your daily diet) with a thread of the brand’s DNA and see what can be spawned. If you’re going to hack a brand, then you need to create siblings that will grow. Don’t be the Dr. Frankenstein, be Chance the Gardener.

But the efforts of the project could have been better used if the activist participants consider sending the franachise owners a list of alternative, more profitable, careers. Do we expect McDonalds to revise their entire supply chain and thus business and ultimately Brand, to deliver something else? It’s easier to start a new enterprise rather than rework the values of an existing chain business.

At least, give advice to the staff that run the counters and fryers. If McDondalds cant staff the restaurant because there are better things to do, then they cant operate the store…

Or make the last day of the month “McDonalds Day”; give everyone the focus to go to MacDonald’s on a specific day of the month, leaving them to choose something else for the other 30 days of the month. Super Sizing the issue doesn’t give people the mental space to block out the problem, instead, it raises awareness that ‘treat-yourself food’ is available all the time. Think about how this would effect the price and supply chain of a fast-food franchise business..

To hack Friedrich Nietzsche warning,

Battle not with clown,
lest ye become a clown,
and if you gaze into the makeup,
the makeup gazes into you.

2 Responses to “If it Doesn’t Kill Ya”

  1. Rob Myers Says:

    McDonalds couldn’t buy this kind of publicity in the target demographic and wouldn’t choose to expose itself to this kind of critique with the opportunities and information it exposes. This is good medicine for McDonalds. They should pay EyeBeam’s rent for a year in thanks for this.

    “OurSpace” by Christine Harold is a wonderfully insightful critique of the problems with Adbusters and other incoherent corporate negativists. It is also a good critique of people like me who just thought Adbusters were idiots. It starts with Situationism, ends with Creative Commmons, spares no criticism but also, crucially, picks up the strategies that may be effective and extends them in interesting new ways. I keep telling you to read it. ;-)

    Point of sale as shareable experience is the Apple Store. People hold flashmobs and write novels there, or protest against DRM.

    The Apple Store experience was developer Agile-ly in a warehouse or studio with “sets” and customer experiences iteratively built up, evaluated, and torn down before the final “release”.

    Could something like that be produced collaboratively? Would making it Free add value to customers, competitors and the original experience?

    The point of a point of sale is sale. If your point of sale becomes more valuable than what you are selling, if you reach the point where you are basically selling your point of sale, you need to switch.

    iPods are not souvenirs of Apple Store because their affordances are denser and more temporally extensive. The Apple Store experience is a souvenir of them. But you can see how a naive anthropologist might view them as Mickey Mouse hats from Steve Jobs.


  2. [...] If it doesn’t kill ya [...]


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