Photos as released by TBWA Paris

The advertising agency TBWA Paris released their new branding initiative to McDonald’s on May 22. It’s a follow up to their last collaboration with the world renowned fast food chain, which simply showed tightly cropped closeups of the food. This time, they’ve reduced it even more to showing the iconic foods as vector icons against flat backgrounds. The only branding provided are the tiny Golden Arches logo at the lower right corner of the billboards.

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The signs might be enough to stop viewers, but there’s no follow-through to where to go and what to buy.

According to an article in Adweek, the “major rollout [begins] June 2.” The art direction of the ads is definitely radical and shocking. One could argue that because the foods and the brand are known internationally, there’s really no need to have photographs. It does indeed separate the ads from its competitors, but perhaps there’s a reason everyone uses photos of the actual food.

When advertising a complete sensory experience on a flat surface, it’s difficult to sell the product. The food photography has to be excellent. It has to make viewers stop, gape and hear their stomach rumble in desperate need for sinful snacks. The steam emanating from the fries makes them look fresh. The crisp lettuce in the burgers makes them look crunchy. The plastic shine of the M&M’s on McFlurries makes us want to break our diets. Yes, it’s used by every company out there, but with the reduced nature of these ads comes the reduction of the consumer’s appetite.

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At an incredibly large size, the large, flat shapes are just overwhelming.

One of the reasons the approach doesn’t work is that icons are meant to be an informational design to represent something in a smaller size. Sometimes they can be silhouettes like the female and male bathroom signs. Rarely do you see these simplified, usually one or two color, designs blown up to a larger than life proportion. They look like big blocks of color and are harder to comprehend. They’re also so large and overpowering that the Golden Arches disappear in terms of hierarchy. For all the consumer knows, they could be looking at a Wendy’s ad.

If you have a couple of seconds to sell something, this is a risky choice. Seeing it on the street, it’s shocking enough that a user will stop, take a second and wonder what it is, but there’s no call to action. It leaves one thinking, “So what now?” If the strategy was to shock, then the campaign definitely works. But it fails to achieve the larger goal: getting people to buy McDonald’s.

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The iconography falls flat.

Aesthetically, some icons work better than others. The sundae reads as a sundae, the fries read like fries and the burger reads as a burger. However, the fish fillet (is it?) sandwich could be mistaken for just a big block of cheese in two buns and the bird’s eye view of a burger could maybe be a hat.

The chicken nuggets look like potato chips, especially with the highly saturated yellow. It is by far the weakest of the icons because of the ambiguous negative space used for the purple box. One side is in shade, which shows the three dimensionality, but the side closest to viewers is white with just a sliver of purple on the edge. It feels like a last minute save when the designer realized it didn’t look like anything but a few organic shapes next to a purple polygon.

The issue design sees today is that everyone wants to follow the style of Apple. They want the clean minimalist feel that gives users exactly what they need — no more, no less. What the trend-followers fail to realize is that aesthetic alone does not make good design. It’s the relationship between the aesthetic and the meaning. If a company wanted to showcase that their product can be used by anyone, then this works perfectly. Otherwise, users get nothing at all.

TBWA Paris seems to be following the same pattern of confusing style with function. Yes, it’s cool. Yes, it’s hip. Yes, it’s unique, but it doesn’t leave the audience hungry. If they’re trying to follow the Apple style, then it’s working because a lot more people will probably be making healthier choices.