At a marketing event last week, McDonald's chief executive officer Paul Pomroy was explaining his brand's approach. He explained that as a mass-market brand, it is critical to never get ahead of his audience. In communications, McDonald's works hard to avoid anything that the public isn't ready for. Forty eight consecutive quarters of growth suggest they may be on to something.
McCain clearly has a different playbook. Its consumers are equally mainstream, but they're not content to be a close follower. This Valentine's spot celebrates the rich variety of British life, from same sex couples to lovers with disabilities. There are 13.3m disabled people in the UK, so this ad shouldn’t be remarkable. Its power comes from fact we're simply not used to seeing people like this in advertising.
This isn’t new for the brand. The ‘We are Family’ campaign has sparked homophobic abuse on Twitter. You can imagine the debate back in the marketing department. "Plenty of our volume comes from older consumers with traditional values – why rock the boat? Our job is to sell frozen chips, not a political agenda".
So why rock the boat indeed? Why should a comfort food brand push even a small section of its audience out of their comfort zone? Perhaps because the goodwill generated amongst the unrepresented minority will endure long after the irritation of the prejudiced has faded. Perhaps because inspiring the many outweighs annoying the few.
And perhaps McCain recognise that you don’t always have to be a follower. When you're setting the agenda, especially with as much charm as this, people are willing to follow you for a change.
Dan Hulse is the chief strategy pfficer at St Luke's