For the benefit of our younger readers, let me paint a little picture for you of a special time I like to call the late 1990s.
It was truly a golden age. Capitalism was ready to solve all the world’s problems. There was no Islamic terrorism, no Brexit, no president Trump and no coronavirus. (There was a looming climate catastrophe, but we did a pretty good job pretending there wasn’t.) The infallible Tony Blair was the face of a bold new UK, ready to enter the new millennium with modern values and a can-do attitude.
I always thought I’d be immune from the observation of US newspaper columnist Mary Schmich – adapted by Baz Luhrmann for the 1999 novelty hit Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – that everyone, when they get old, will “fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders”. But on the first of these points, I’ve noticed that even growing up in an age of historically moderate inflation, price nostalgia is a powerful force – so it’s a smart way to advertise a brand benefit that McDonald’s is not responsible for and every other restaurant in the country is also offering (Monday to Wednesday only).
It helps that this era is roughly in the sweet spot right now for the exploitation of fond memories, and the combo of grainy VHS footage and NSYNC classic I Want You Back is highly evocative. Fact fans will be intrigued to learn that the song first came out in Germany in 1996, but its UK release in January 1998 was the week of my 11th birthday – an occasion I probably used to cajole my parents into taking me for a rare trip to Maccy Ds.
To add a bit more context to the political points above, this was also a time before Justin Timberlake brought sexy back (2006), bought MySpace (2011), grew a beard and ran off into the woods (2018). More importantly, it was also before his bandmate Lance Bass tried and failed to go into space. In other words, an innocent time.
For this 33-year-old, all the ingredients in this ad have fallen perfectly into place (even the gherkins).
Title Welcome back to the 90s
Agency Leo Burnett
Created by Andrew Long and James Millers