As seen on The Guardian
Who said juggernaut brands can’t self-reflex their muscles? On Wednesday McDonald’s supersized on nostalgia with the re-launch of the Hamburglar. It went viral. Twitter exploded with shares comparing the new fast food bandit to celebrities ranging from wrestlers to politicians. A far cry from the cheeky childish earlier incarnation –last seen in 2002- the new Hamburglar is somewhere between Hipster and Christian Gray. For a company that has been struggling to cope with fundamental shifts in the restaurant market this is an unexpected coup. Yet the response of the media press has been sniffy, accusing the campaign as being, like the menu, stuck in the past and rather creepy.
Let’s not throw the burger out with the gherkin. Of course the revival reeks of self-cannibalism; but like all the great brands, McDonald’s can afford to play with its cult status. McDonald’s sales have fallen most sharply among the late 20s-30s age range- precisely the demographic likely to tweet pics and share their own memories of the Hamburglar. Whether or not the new thief of McDonaldland is a hipster he is clearly designed to appeal more to the cereal café munching crowd who remember the character from their beardless youth than it is to the usual target of McDonald’s advertising.
Creativity is now a by-word for ideas refracted in the lens of ironic self-reference. Here it distracts from the usual disdain that McDonald’s receives from the chattering public. You don’t tweet a photo of your Big Mac like you do of your Byron. But now McDonald’s has discovered its vintage funk –something the fancier upstarts lack- and invited us to join in. The mystery to Hamburglar’s backstory –we’re told he’s been a suburban dad for a last decade- invites others to contribute their speculative two cents. The Chippendale effect of the masked rogue is pure marmite sensationalism- repelling some, attracting others. All the while the image of the shiny new product is positioned front of centre.
To a lesser extent McDonald’s found a way of doing for its triple sirloin McCoronaries what the infamous gold-or-white dress did for chromatics. More generally, it demonstrates how big brands are resorting to throwing high concept ideas against the wall of noise in the hope that something sticks. This #ideaporn works best when the risk is minimal; in the case of the Hamburglar any one bothered by him probably wasn’t a customer anyway. The flipside to this burger is that the level of noise is likely to be a one off and any future revivals will smack of a rehash of a reboot, which is possibly one step too post-mod for the old golden arches. However if they do insist on it I recommend Mayor McCheeseburger as a corrupt cocaine-snorting city official in the mould of Rob Ford.