It features a woman who sits down next to her husband, babbling away about the delicious oatmeal she bought. As she sits down, she remains focused on the oatmeal and never really looks at her husband until after she offers him a spoonful.
Then — surprise! — the man she’s offering to spoon-feed isn’t her husband at all; he’s only dressed like her husband, and is, in fact, a socially awkward dweeb eating breakfast alone. That’s when the icky part happens.
As the woman recovers from her shock, with her extended spoon still hovering in front of the stranger, the social misfit puts his mouth around her spoon and eats the oatmeal.
And we all feel violated for her.
The woman, mortified beyond belief, drops that spoon like it was poison and recoils from the stranger, retreating to the safety of her husband. It’s meant to be funny, but comes off as deeply disturbing. Even after the husband’s “that’s actually how we met” joke makes light of the situation, most viewers remain disturbed and left feeling more than a little icky.
[****A reader helpfully left a youtube link to the commercial in the comments — thanks, Susie! The video captures has some weird overtape in the first few seconds of the commercial, but you can see all the important parts. Check it out:***]
Whether we admit it or not, we all believe in essences. Sure, our conscious minds might try to over-rule our emotional belief, but we still believe — we still have the same emotional reactions and make the same decisions as if we consciously believed in essences and cooties. This is why people shy away from cookies placed next to say, tampons or kitty litter, even when both the cookies and the kitty litter are safely wrapped in plastic and never actually touch each other. It’s also why the billion dollar sports memorabilia industry even exists!
So when the woman in the ad started eating the oatmeal and stuck that spoon in her mouth, she imbued it with some of her essence. And by eating from that same spoon the stranger not only exposed himself to her germs, but on an emotional level, he enacted a violation — a stolen intimacy with the woman, made against her will. He took some of her essence, and in turn, intermingled his essence with hers, contaminating her spoon.
This is one reason why the woman immediately ditches the spoon — she doesn’t want his essence creeping up the spoon to her hand — and also why she recoils in disgust at the man’s actions. For any man who fails to recognize that kind of transgression is dangerous, almost sociopathic.
It all makes perfect emotional sense. And if you think I’m spinning off into English Major la la land, just ask yourself:
- Would you buy furniture from a convicted child molester, even if it was sold for pennies on the dollar? Why not?
- Would you be upset if you knew that an old bed you had sold in a yard sale was bought by a child molester?
- Would you give special treatment to some item (aka relic) that had belonged to one of your heroes?
If you answer, no, to the first two questions or, yes, to the third, then at least a part of you believe in essences.
So what does this have to do with advertising?
Because the decision-making part of our brains work according to the laws of Magical Thinking. Meaning that your advertising ought to at least be in harmony with those same laws, if not actively leveraging them to your benefit.
And, just so you know, the Law of Contagion/Essences is just one of about two dozen “Laws of Magic” that you’d probably want to keep in mind.
So does your advertising weave magic? Or are you violating these laws and inadvertently leaving your audience feeling icky all over?
P.S. One might say that McDonad’s oatmeal itself is a sign of magical thinking, wherein the mere contact with oats somehow imbues healthful qualities onto a snickers bar’s worth of sugar, chemicals, and saturated fat.