McDonalds-Oatmeal-Commercial-Girl-300x122Have you seen the recent McDonald’s Ad for their Fruit and Maple Oatmeal?

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:***]

YouTube Preview Image

But why?

Mag­i­cal Thinking

goldenboughWhether 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.

Mag­i­cal Advertising

So what does this have to do with advertising?

The Laws of MagicBecause 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.


  1. Naomi Niles on 05.19.2011

    This is really inter­est­ing. Now I’m try­ing to fig­ure out how to be more whole­some. I don’t really like oat­meal, so that could be an issue!

    Thanks, Jeff. You’ve always write excel­lent arti­cles. I enjoy them mucho. :)

  2. Jeff on 05.19.2011

    Thanks so much, Naomi!

    I think that a lot of design prin­ci­ples reflect the same sort of men­tal processes as Mag­i­cal Thinking.

    - Jeff

  3. Naomi Niles on 05.19.2011

    That’s true! I didn’t think about it that way. :D

  4. Sarah Arrow on 05.20.2011

    Great post Jeff, I felt that woman’s dis­taste and recoil even though I have never seen the ad.

    I think the “essence” is the rea­son why we by brands, we want the sleek­ness of the brand to rub off on our selves, and some­times it does. Even if it’s just moments.

    The PS — is that a typo or did you mean to call them McDon­ads?, that caught my eye and made me click through from the email of your post.

  5. Nick Stewart on 05.20.2011

    Fas­ci­nat­ing. Do you have a link where I could watch the video of the McDonald’s com­mer­cial? I haven’t actu­ally seen it but now I really want to.

  6. Jeff on 05.20.2011


    I really wish I had that link. In fact, if I had it, I’d have posted it or embed­ded it here. Couldn’t find it. But I’ve asked some friends with higher-end Tivos to try and record it for me and will post it when I get it.

    - Jeff

  7. susie@newdaynewlesson on 05.21.2011

    Here is the link to the com­mer­cial for other peo­ple like me who had to search for it:

    I think it was just the germ thing that both­ered me. :-)

  8. Jeff on 05.23.2011

    ***My friend and fel­low copy­writer Lor­raine — check out her blog at — can’t get her computer/browser to play nice with my out­dated and some­what glitchy word­press instal­la­tion. So she sent me the fol­low­ing via e-mail and asked me to post it here for her. Thanks, Lorraine!***

    Hi Jeff:

    Your blog still doesn’t like me. But I wanted to let you know I tried to post the fol­low­ing comment:

    Jeff, please DO spin off into Eng­lish Major/symbolism. I think it’s totally rel­e­vant when dis­cussing mar­ket­ing where we need to under­stand human beings’ moti­va­tions, emo­tions, uncon­scious desires–and taboos.

    BTW, It’s delight­ful to see The Golden Bough on a copy­writ­ing bolg–but not sur­pris­ing given it’s your copy­writ­ing blog. I love read­ing Frazer’s accounts of magic, ancient reli­gious prac­tices and ritual.

    Thanks for another fas­ci­nat­ing post.”

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