The fast food giant’s advertising has had to strike a difficult balance in a year when families are struggling. Read on to find out how Leo Burnett helped them square the circle.

In our round-up of the Christmas ads of 2022, we point out that brands are having to walk a tightrope this year. Yes, they want us to spend our money with them during the festive season, but they also need to read the room. Times are tough right now for most people. And anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that, in some subtle way at least, risks damaging any brand loyalty they’ve built up over the year.

Each company has taken a slightly different approach to this conundrum so far. And now comes McDonald’s, who’s taken a clear view that what’s important this Christmas is not big spending but celebrating moments of togetherness.

Of course, that’s easy for the fast food giant to say, as it only wants you to spend enough for a meal deal. But even so, this kind of thing isn’t easy to pull off in practice: the line between gaudily sentimental and genuinely touching is a thin one indeed. So it’s to the credit of Leo Burnett UK that they’ve managed to pull it off for this Yuletide campaign.

Concept

This main idea is that it’s the little things that mean the most at Christmas, with an integrated campaign that brings families together, for a series of small but meaningful moments, during the build-up to the big day.

At the centre of the campaign is a 90-second ad directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper, known for helming movies like The King’s Speech and Les Miserables. The spot tells the story of a little boy named Alfie, who gets carried away with the excitement of writing a Christmas list before realising that it’s the little shared moments that really matter.

The film shows the importance of family time over the materialistic aspect of Christmas, reminding the UK of what’s important during the festive season.

“We can all get a bit carried away by the excitement of Christmas, but we all know it’s those small moments with loved ones that matter the most,” says Chaka Sobhani, the chief creative officer at Leo Burnett UK and Global. “We hope the Alternative Christmas List taps into that, particularly in such a difficult year.”

The narrative

The ad opens with Alfie and his mum looking over the balcony of their flat as she encourages him to write a Christmas list for Santa. As the boy crafts and builds his list, he becomes increasingly absorbed with the craft and its excitement.

The list grows and grows: multiplying in length each time we see it. Alfie and his parents are Christmas shopping at their local high street when he asks, ‘How do you send this to Father Christmas?’. The pages begin to take flight, riding a gust of wind into the sky. The boy and his parents chase the list through the town centre, but the list flies into the distance.

Visibly upset, Alfie is embraced by his parents. Mum spots a McDonald’s in the distance, and they head in to cheer him up. Mum asks, ‘What was on your list anyway?’. Alfie smoothens out a scrunched-up page of the list, which he managed to keep as it flew away. The most important page of them all shows a drawing of mum, dad and son.

The story is pulled together by the classic song Only You, made famous originally by electro-pop act Yazoo and then reimagined for Christmas by the Acappella group The Flying Pickets. The new version, recorded by pop star Becky Hill, hits a sweet spot somewhere in between the two versions. And 10p from every download of this track in the UK from now until Spring 2023 will be donated to BBC Children in Need.

Mobile campaign

The ad accompanies a mobile campaign, accessed through the McDonald’s App called The Alternative Christmas List. This invites customers to enjoy six unique experiences, released weekly in the build-up to Christmas.

Every experience on The Alternative Christmas List has been created to enhance a shared family moment. The experiences will include things like a festive touring photobooth, McDelivery Christmas carollers, and festive audio books for families driving home for Christmas.

A festive food campaign will underline the campaign, bringing back the Big Tasty, Festive Pie, Cheese Melt Dippers, Celebrations McFlurry, Hot Chocolate Deluxe, as well as a new McCafé product, the Caramel Waffle Latte.

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