It is a common experience today to walk down any shopping district, and encounter someone with a branded shirt with an anarchic twist. Often you’ll bear witness to one of the world’s most recognised corporate logos with an illicit difference, accompanied by a message, which is often a satirical pun on the company’s original slogan. This is a concept called Brandalism.
A hybrid of brand and vandalism, the term translates as follows; The encroachment of ads, logos, and other types of corporate branding into public and traditionally non-commercial spaces, or the dissemination of corporate messages through methods or mediums not typically used for marketing purposes. Motivations for brandalism are often political, commonly used by pressure groups and Internet bloggers, though they are also used commercially for counter cultures. An early example would be the smiley face symbol. Though its origin is contested between the 1963 TV programme The Funny Company and a design for an insurance company around the same time, the symbol was adopted by the hippy movement symbolising free-love and hedonism. However, another counter culture movement later used it, this time in the UK. It has since become synonymous with the acid house era of the late 1980s and 1990s rave culture.
For a brief understanding of the concept of brandalism, a prime example is the work of infamous street artist, Bansky. Using montages of stencils and spray paint on walls near popular monuments, Banksy uses art to convey criticism of modern day life, with politics and corporations being regular targets. His most recent project being Dismaland, not the theme park where dreams are made of but more of a nightmarish landscape of disturbing artwork depicting society’s flaws.
Victims of brandalism are predominantly the world’s most prolific brands for reasons not limited to issues such as working practices, third-world exploitation, social and economic inequality, animal welfare, environmental impact and public health to list a few. In recent years corporate culture has adopted practices in the interest of ‘corporate responsibility’. Though ethical values should be at the heart of all businesses, leading brands have to go the extra mile to appease public perceptions that have been blighted by negative consumer perception.
Recent examples include BP, having been linked to major oil spills, the logo ooze’s oil with the new abbreviation of their company altered to standing for broken promises. Coffee chain Starbucks has also been a regular contender for parodies. However, no industry has faced more opposition than the fast food sector, with public enemy number one for the majority of alternative thinkers being McDonalds. For three decades the conglomerate has received no end of public backlash. Reasons behind public anger include links of fast food to illnesses, animal cruelty, political lobbying, using controversial additives, advertising to children and much more. It is thus imperative that campaigns shed the negative perception the company has accrued.
The Good Times campaign is unlike previous campaigns, these ads are not product led. Instead they tell a story. The ideology behind the new advertisements is to show how McDonalds plays its role in customers’ lives. The ‘Fun’ ad centres on a young protagonist named Harry. Being a young child, he ventures into the world with curiosity and innocence. The ad shows him being told not to do things children do, like run through puddles, bounce on beds, peering into glass cabinets and such forth. The closing scene depicts the family taking Harry into a McDonalds restaurant, and instead of telling him not to do something, encouraging him to go and order his ‘Happy Meal’. In this case, McDonalds is a reward for good behaviour, appeasing the child and giving the family the opportunity to spend quality time. However, there is an alternative perspective doing the rounds. Like all modes of communication, brandalism has evolved, and now takes the form of Internet bloggers, spreading views and opinions using platforms like Youtube.
A recent video review of the advertisement by Laptop Vegan raises questions about the Good Times campaign. The video argues that the child is not allowed to be a child. Having fun and a natural sense of curiosity is what makes a childhood, yet the advertisement gives the impression that these actions are somehow not to be encouraged, as though they are in someway negative. Taking this perspective into account, how would a parent see this ad? Indeed, how would a child react to messages of control and restriction? It is crucial to consider and understand how any undesired perspectives would implicate your brand. If a message has the potential to be taken the wrong way, it runs the risk of losing future custom, and even perhaps deterring the previously loyal. In hindsight, McDonalds has always been portrayed as a fun brand.
The Good Times ad according to Laptop Vegan contradicts any such notion. The video finishes with an inverted McDonalds logo, brandishing a word which for the purpose of this article, we’ll leave out. However, in polite terms, it would define the perspective of the company being morally inert in favour of profit. Is this an opinion of one outspoken critic, or generations who are choosing a healthier lifestyle, and seeing between the lines?
The epitome of debate for Laptop Vegan is the closing scene, where the child is encouraged to have a happy meal. Not only have studies linked fast food to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity, but the corporation has landed itself in proverbial hot water for aiming its products at children. To quote it’s company values, McDonalds ‘champions happy, healthy kids’. Connecting a child’s ‘good times’ with fast food may well leave a sour taste with consumers.