A Tale of Two Mcdo Fries Commercials
by Joscar Malacaman (The Silvered Codex, 2011)
In 2009, I saw a McDonald’s French fries commercial that made my heart smile, flutter, break, and then smile again. It opens with two children, a boy and a girl, meeting serendipitously through their mothers, who seemed to be long lost friends. The young girl shows her newfound friend a new way of eating French fries by dipping them in chocolate sundae. She then grabs his hand and leads him towards the McDonald’s play place. The commercial then flashes forward into the future where both kids have now grown-up. The girl is still holding the guy’s hand and is leading him towards the play place where she then introduces him to her husband and child. The commercial ends with the guy dipping his fries in chocolate sundae as the girl watches and smiles. This short narrative is bound together by the Eraserheads’ Ang Huling El Bimbo playing in the background while a soulful voiceover recounts the experience of meeting one’s first love again at a later point in time. It made my heart smile and broke it at the same time. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. The beauty of an undying love is almost unmatchable.
However, what I found most fascinating about this commercial is how it kept human experience at the forefront while the product serves only as a means to share that experience. The presence of McDonald’s feels incidental to the chance meeting and the chocolate sundae frames the shared experience between the two main characters. It’s refreshing to see a commercial where the product gives away the center stage to a short yet moving plot. It delivers a powerful message aside from “eat here at McDonald’s”.
The commercial presents an idealized depiction of love, which is rare in our cynical times. It depicts first love as pure and incorruptible; how it lives on in memory through time. It presents a love that does not manifest envy even when parties have moved on (although I won’t deny that the guy probably felt envious) but rather celebrates the good memories that they’ve shared. It puts love on a pedestal where it has no strings attached to it; a love with no conditions and no rules. It presents a scenario where love transcends time and yet, doesn’t seek to impose itself on reality.
However, most things change in this world and very few remain constant through time.
A couple of days ago, I saw a McDonald’s French fries commercial that made my heart smile, flutter and then break horrendously. It opens with two kids, a boy and a girl (6 or 7 years old, would be my guess), sitting in a playground, talking. The young girl asks her friend: “Girlfriend mo na ba ako?” and the young boy replies with “Ayoko nga” and then proceeds to tell his friend the tendency of girlfriends to want too many things and what hassle it would be to have one. The girl pouts and says “Gusto ko lang naman ng McDo fries eh”. The young boy’s eyes lights up as he checks his pockets and as the commercial closes we see the two holding hands while the girl clutches a small bag of McDonald’s French fries.
Yes, it made my heart smile. The beauty of a young love is almost unmatchable. As I sat on my chair, however, the smile quickly turned into a frown. I realized that love and relationships had just been commercialized and reduced to a simple business deal. The commercial failed to show how love factors in a relationship and instead focused on the fulfillment of material needs. The budding relationship stemmed from a business contract: I’ll give you fries and in return, we’re boyfriend and girlfriend. It was simple yet heartbreaking; how 25 pesos was equated to something as priceless as human affections. The young boy had already foreshadowed this with his prior statement: “Demanding ang mga girlfriend. Gusto ganito. Gusto ganyan.” as if a relationship is forged only by one’s ability to match the wants of their partner.
To make matters worse, the commercial also reinforces two negative gender stereotypes: the opportunistic male and the materialistic female. The manner in which the boy’s eyes lit up upon hearing that the girl only wanted Mcdo fries depicts the man as an opportunistic viper poised to strike when it finds easy prey. He changes his plans upon hearing that the requirements to having a girlfriend weren’t that bad. If holding hands is one of the more basic manifestations of physical intimacy, then this commercial shows the beginnings of a stereotypical man taking every convenient opportunity to get inside a woman’s pants. The girl, on the other hand, reflects the notion that material gifts are the quickest way to a girl’s heart. Upon being told by the young boy of the supposed materialistic nature of girlfriends, the young girl doesn’t challenge this notion but merely lowers expectations instead. The female is still depicted as a person who is persuaded by gifts while the male is portrayed as someone who takes advantage of this. The fact that these characteristics are attributed to young children suggests that these traits come naturally and that is where the danger of stereotyping lies. No reason is necessary for their actions because it is portrayed as natural and should therefore be accepted. The commercial, consciously or unconsciously, hides these stereotypes behind a layer of sweetness and cuteness.
These two commercials deal with more or less the same subject matter in both their theme and their product. Both are McDonald’s French fries commercials which tackle the intricacies of young love. It is clear, however, that they both handle the subject matter differently. The 2009 commercial romanticizes young love while the latter one commercializes it. A certain level of power should be attributed to commercials since they’re designed to sell something and are therefore appealing to its audiences. The issue here is that with the products they sell come the values which these commercials espouse. Commercials are usually good signs of the times since they should reflect the values of their target societies. If that is the case, the concept of love and relationships must have deteriorated over the past two years as reflected by these two Mcdonald’s commercials.
Of course, there is the chance that I am guilty of over-reading and over-analyzing these commercials. However, if we analyze the messages we are sending then we are doomed to create a cycle of ignorance in our society. If we keep on ignoring the little things, then we are forced to face them when these issues have grown in size and momentum. I’m not saying that this is the only commercial that is guilty of stereotyping and commercializing love (there are worse offenders) but because this commercial is cute and sweet, it is all the more dangerous. Layers of meaning lie behind this sugary façade and they are being dismissed as petty issues. If the devil is in the details, then surely the details are worth a second look. If the transition between these two commercials is part of the signs of our time, then we must indeed be alarmed lest we go out without so much as a whimper but rather immersed in sugary laughter.