Inclusiveness = Effectiveness for McDonald’s Mermaid Ad


“The Little Mermaid” Happy Meal


Happy Meals have been a major childhood treat since the late 1970s. Those enticing cardboard boxes filled with a meal and toy may look the same, but the way Happy Meals are advertised now is very different. The flow of different themes and media tie-ins mean Happy Meal advertising is some of McDonalds’ most diverse and effective.

Agency DDB’s newest ad for the promotion is a powerful example. The ad showcases McDonalds’ tie-in with The Little Mermaid, Disney’s latest live-action remake of a classic animated movie. There’s two ‘products’ the brand could focus on here – the meals and the movie. But the ad does neither.

Instead, it introduces us to Maizy, a young surfer who’s on the junior team for Black Girls Surf. Black Girls Surf is an organization which does exactly what it says, encouraging young Black women and girls from California to Senegal to take up surfing as a hobby. Movie heroine Ariel is an inspiration for Maizy, who feels just like a mermaid when she’s on her board. But Ariel’s got work to do before she could match Maizy’s surfing skills.

What McDonald’s and DDB are doing here is making an ad which captures the spirit of the tie-in movie rather than simply bundling up clips from it. The Little Mermaid is a film all about freedom, independence, and giving girls the opportunity to realize their dreams – however unlikely they seem. Maizy’s story – and Black Girls Surf in general – are a perfect fit for that.

It’s a far more emotional and imaginative approach than a simple product-driven ad would be. The Test Your Ad scores it gets reflect that. The ad scores 4.5-Stars with a general audience, meaning it has strong potential to drive long-term market share gain and putting it in the Top 5 US McDonald’s ads we’ve tested.

We also tested the ad among a custom African-American sample, where it scored an even stronger 4.7-Stars with its emphasis on Black girl empowerment. This tracks with the findings of our Feeling Seen USA report, where we looked at how inclusive advertising lands with the wider population and with the specific demographic groups it celebrates.

The Feeling Seen report found that successful inclusive ads work in two ways. They can provide a “Diversity Dividend” – a higher score among the specific group showing that the ad is speaking powerfully to them. We see that slightly in the Little Mermaid ad, and with Test Your Ad Premium we can see that the African-American audience responded particularly to the “inspiring” elements of the ad while the general public found it more “fun”.

The second way inclusive advertising works is even more important. Diverse advertising unites us – ads from major brands which showcase and celebrate diversity perform better than the average ads by those brands. It’s this effect that McDonald’s and DDB are tapping here. They’ve created an ad which tells one specific story but uplifts every viewer.

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