Catch a rising commercial
A McDonald's TV ad by Arnold becomes latest with roots in amateur online video
McDonald's Corp. is the latest corporation to try to cash in on the YouTube phenomenon, and the two moonlighting comedians who threw together a Chicken McNuggets video and slapped it on the Internet for fun are lovin' it.
Boston advertising agency Arnold is using the video, created by Fernando Sosa, a 26-year-old who does data entry by day, and Matt Malinsky, a 35-year-old IT manager, both of whom hustle jokes in their spare time at Chicago comedy spots, in a commercial for McDonald's in New York. The grainy, year-and-a-half old clip features Sosa and another man who is now working on a cruise ship amateurishly rapping about Chicken McNuggets, and is another example of how content created by the masses is catching the eye of professionals in the advertising world.
In fact, nearly everything about how the ad's production is a departure from tradition in the high-stakes world of advertising, where clients like McDonald's pay ad agencies like Arnold millions of dollars for well-planned campaigns that favor tested slogans in favor of edgy ways of presenting messages. In this case, though, planning went out the window, and it paid off.
"I can tell you I considered doing the corporate thing to it, but [Arnold] wanted to try to make it organic and let it live in the space from which it came from so people could relate to it more. They convinced me otherwise," said Ken Ebo, McDonald's Corp.'s New York marketing director and the executive who approved the ad. He said the commercial, which has been running on about seven New York TV stations for two weeks, has helped increase sales of McDonald's chicken nugget meals "and the buzz that has been generated has been substantial. I've heard radio station DJs chattering about it. You can't pay for that."
Malinsky shot and edited the video, which he said took less than two hours total, while Sosa and the third man performed in it.
The video was conceived when Sosa's co-star walked in on him eating Chicken McNuggets while rehearsing for a gig.
They decided to make it a part of their routine and later created the video, which was shot at a McDonald's across from Chicago's Wrigley Field, with the idea that their friends and family could laugh at it.
"It was the pinnacle of this game that we played which was these hip-hop characters who were beat-boxing about McNuggets," Sosa said.
But the video became a YouTube hit, getting tens of thousands viewers. It found its way to Chris Edwards, Arnold's creative director, via an anonymous e-mail. Edwards still doesn't know who sent it, but that didn't matter: he had a campaign to produce pushing McDonald's 10 Extra Value Meals to young New Yorkers, the very audience that responds to YouTube videos.
He hunted down Sosa.
"I was like, 'Is this for real?' I didn't know who Arnold was," Sosa said. He knows now, after the deluge of calls he's gotten about the ad, which included an invitation to talk about it on Fox News Channel earlier this month.
User-created commercials have created a stir throughout the advertising world. Advertisers from Heinz to Dove to Malibu Caribbean Rum have held contests to find user-created videos to use as commercials.
"There are countless examples of advertising agencies now looking for ideas from consumers and sometimes using them," said Anita Elberse, an assistant professor of marketing at Harvard Business School. "It generates publicity."
The McDonald's commercial, and the buzz surrounding it, shows that the advertising world is embracing the advantages of viral marketing. The McNuggets commercial is the first time that Arnold, which represents McDonald's franchisees in several regions of the country, is using video pulled straight from YouTube. But it isn't the first example of either the firm, or McDonald's, experimenting with content created by the public to inspire its ad campaigns.
In 2004, Arnold produced a campaign for Internet phone service Vonage Holdings Corp., which featured home videos of stunts that originally appeared on the Internet or on the network show "America's Funniest Home Videos".
McDonald's also is currently running a commercial in Denver, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs, and Wichita and Topeka, Kan., that is based on a YouTube video created by two 18 year-olds from Waukesha, Wis.
The teens, Nate Gessner and Greg Calhoun, recorded themselves singing their orders at a McDonald's drive-through and uploaded the prank to YouTube. More than 40,000 viewers later, the creative director for Karsh/Hagan, which handles McDonald's advertising in some Midwestern markets, decided to turn the concept into a professionally produced commercial.
Such efforts can prove much cheaper than producing a full commercial. Ebo wouldn't disclose the ad's cost but said it was cheaper than a typical McDonald's spot. Sosa and Malinsky were paid for their roles "like actors", Ebo said, but neither he nor they could give specifics.
One reason viral videos are becoming so popular among advertisers is that in many cases they've already been proven to resonate with their target audience, said Elbrese. For example, the original video being used in the McDonald's commercial had been viewed 152,000 times on YouTube as of yesterday.
"That's a focus group right there," said Elbrese, the Harvard professor.
Keith Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.