MONEY Fast Food

McDonald’s Wants to Replace the Drive-Thru with Drones

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Roger Kisby/Getty Images

That's the kind of revolutionary idea McDonald's wants to hear about at SXSW, the hipster festival where the fast food chain will be a big presence in the hopes of winning over millennials.

How’s this for an odd, arguably desperate pairing? McDonald’s, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary, and which has struggled mightily to gain favor with trendy millennial consumers, is serving as a “Super Sponsor” at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, movies, and ideas festival in Austin that’s a magnet for everything young, hip, and forward-thinking.

Not only will the McDonald’s logo be splashed throughout Austin during the mid-March festival, the fast food giant will be handing out food free of charge to attendees and will welcome startups to pitch ideas that could change how the company does business. “We want to be in the flow of ideas, offering our scale to interesting partners, with the intent to make the lives of millions of people who use McDonald’s a bit simpler and even more enjoyable,” McDonald’s explains of its decision to be a part of SXSW.

There will be three separate days for pitch sessions, each focused on a different topic, such as “Reinventing the Restaurant Experience” and “Mobilizing the Transportation and Delivery Revolution.” For the latter, startups are supposed to take the fact that “our existing idea of door-to-door delivery and drive-thru will soon be obsolete” into consideration when pitching innovations. Those with the best pitches could get a chance to win a trip to McDonald’s Illinois headquarters to explain their concepts to company leaders, and potentially become partners.

Apparently, McDonald’s really wants to hear about so-called “moon shots,” i.e. big ideas that stretch the imagination and may at first seem impossible, but which could prove ground-breaking and transformative if they ultimately come to fruition. Like so:

Imagine a world where drones could deliver you food while you’re driving down the highway. Seems crazy now, but technology is increasingly revolutionizing our everyday lives.

This kind of thinking is quite a step up for a company whose most recent “Big Idea” was bringing back Chicken Selects to the menu.

Gathering solid business ideas is probably not the primary reason McDonald’s is invading SXSW, however. More likely, the company is hoping to make inroads with influential hipsters and millennials, the generation that shows far greater preference for Starbucks and fast casual restaurants like Panera and Chipotle than it does for McDonald’s and other fast food players.

Yet millennials are famously difficult to win over with advertising, and the McDonald’s brand is often polarizing, attracting haters and critics no matter what move it makes. So the company’s supersized presence at the youth-dominated festival seems puzzling to some.

“The usual SXSW crowd is not the [McDonald’s] crowd. [Attendees are] usually edgier, healthier, more techy, definitely more millennial,” Wendy Liebmann, CEO of the WSL Strategic Retail consultant firm, told MarketWatch. “McDonald’s may see this as an opportunity to show it’s become hipper, trendier and [be] using SXSW as a platform to be seen differently.”

In which case, look out Burning Man festival goers. McDonald’s may be coming after you next.

TIME Advertising

Watch Boss Women Prove ‘Like a Girl’ Is the Best Compliment

When someone says you're doing something like a girl, it means you're doing great

There’s a sequel to the viral #LikeAGirl ad, and this time, Always is taking the age-old insult and turning it on its head.

While the original #LikeAGirl commercial investigated how the phrase hurts girls’ confidence, the new ad twists the insult into a compliment. Throughout the ad, which is for feminine hygiene company Always, girls all over the world are dribbling, skating, scoring and rock climbing like girls. They’re even translating the hashtag into other languages. The ad ends with “Let’s keep making #LikeAGirl mean amazing things.”

 

MONEY Advertising

The Sneaky Way Cable Networks Are Making You Watch More Commercials

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John Howard—Getty Images

You're not just imagining it: Networks are speeding up shows and movies to pack in more commercials.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’ve increasingly felt that I’m watching more commercials than I did a mere decade before. And that’s not because I’m watching more TV — if anything, I’m watching less live television as streaming video and outside interests take more of my free time. Instead, it feels like the average live TV show has more commercials. Perhaps you’ve felt that way, too.

Of course, on the surface this sounds downright silly. The average running time of a sitcom hasn’t substantively changed in the last decade or so — with the average one-hour broadcast drama running time clocking in at roughly 42 minutes in 2005, close to its current length — after dropping from 48 minutes in the ’80s. In addition, many shows on cable TV are reruns of fan favorites that were filmed over a decade ago, so it would be difficult to substantively edit the material for commercial purposes.

But according to the The Wall Street Journal, if you’re watching cable reruns of Seinfeld and Friends you may notice the comedic timing differs from what you’re used to. So, if you think the Soup Nazi is telling George, “No soup for you” a tad faster than normal, you’re right: Networks are speeding up shows and movies to pack in more commercials.

You’d think more ads equals more money… but not really

Cable networks are facing a crisis of sorts: As more individuals choose to cut the cord, cable needs to air more ads to fulfill audience guarantees made to advertisers. If you think of television as a commercial delivery model, falling audience members need to be offset by rising per-audience ad costs or to increase the “unit load” (read: number of commercials) to reward shareholders. If neither happens, then shareholders will experience declining ad-based revenues.

For network shareholders, this is more bad news when it comes to the ad-based business. As advertising dollars follow eyeballs, marketers are now shifting ad dollars to digital with media research firm Magna expecting television ad revenue to drop 1.4% this year. Considering ad dollars are flowing away from television, the first option of charging more for ads is out of the question for networks.

So far, the response to competing for ad based dollars consists of speeding up programming to get the real content: ads. The journal specifically mentions Time Warner’s TIME WARNER INC. TWX 0.06% TBS and Viacom’s VIACOM INC. VIAB -1.04% TV Land as culprits of show tampering. And although the WSJ doesn’t address the speed of commercials, it’s safe to assume they are still regular speed.

Advertisers, shareholders, or viewers, pick two … or none

On the surface you’d think this practice would please two stakeholders (advertisers and shareholders) at the expense of viewers, but you’d be wrong. Advertising firm Omnicom Media’s [time=stock symbol=OMC] president, Chris Geraci, was quoted as saying, “They are trying to deal with a problem in a way that is making the problem bigger.” For advertisers, the fear of ad saturation reducing the effectiveness of each individual ad is a legitimate concern.

For shareholders, this is a very myopic policy that will probably alienate current viewers. Recently, Nielsen found that millennials are ditching traditional TV at a “shocking” rate. Forcing a product of decreasing quality on viewers will result in further shifts away from the format altogether. And that’s not good for advertisers, shareholders, or the remaining viewers left to pay higher affiliate fees for Chipmunk-like programming.

As for my earlier conspiracy-theorist paranoia, I’ll leave you with a quote from Catch-22 author Joseph Heller: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

TIME Advertising

This Ad Perfectly Captures the Horrors of New Motherhood

It's also great birth control

HelloFlo doesn’t just tackle first periods — it’s also breaking into the mom market.

The women’s health company, which scored a viral hit last year with an ad about a young girl’s “first moon party,” is back with a new campaign. In this ad, a new mom takes a break from breastfeeding and changing diapers to perform a musical about how much it sucks to have a tiny baby. “How could I let another woman walk through the terrifying abyss of motherhood without telling her the things I’d seen?” she says.

“For what it’s worth: There’s no laughter after after-birth,” she sings in a full-on Broadway style belt.

When asked if she’s worried about the success of her musical, she replies: “I have suction cups attached to my nipples, squeezing milk out of my rock-hard boobs. I fear nothing.” Once she sees HelloFlo’s new mom kit — which includes essentials like nipple cream, breast pads, lotion and Luna bars — she fears it’s so useful, it will make her musical obsolete. Until she uses it to bribe everyone to see her show.

If you’re a mom, you’ll love this. If you’re not a mom yet, it might scare you off for good.

Read next: This Video Shows Why Being a Mom Is the Hardest Job Out There

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TIME Advertising

Sheryl Sandberg: Simplifying Facebook Ads Led to Enormous Growth

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Paul Morigi—Getty Images Chief operating officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit on Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington D.C.

The company hit the milestone Tuesday

Facebook has come a long way from the banner ads that populated the site back in 2004. The world’s largest social network announced Tuesday that it now has 2 million “active advertisers,” defined as an advertiser that’s placed an ad in the last 28 days.

The company crossed the milestone less than two years after it reached 1 million advertisers in June 2013.

Facebook has recently been taking pains to court small businesses in particular, cutting the number of ad products in half to make its offerings easier to understand. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company has also been hosting free marketing training sessions around the country. A new Ads Manager app launching for iOS Tuesday that lets Facebook advertisers create and edit ads on the go could help lure still more smaller marketers.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg attributes the company’s fast advertiser growth to the streamlined ad products in particular. “A couple years ago, our offering was, ‘Do you want to become a Facebook advertiser?’ That sounds complicated,” Sandberg says. “Now you do a post, and we ask, ‘Do you want to promote this post?’ That’s a pretty easy on-ramp to being an advertiser.”

Though Facebook likes to say its ads are effective because of the amount of data it has about its users, Forrester researcher Nate Elliot says advertisers are actually attracted to the platform mostly because of the sheer number of people using it: 1.3 billion. Citing surveys of marketers, Elliot says Facebook ads have not been found to be particularly more effective than other online ads.

“Facebook knows more about its users than likely any other company in history,” he says. “For its ads to work only about as well as the ads on Yahoo or the ads on a random online network is a bit damning.” Facebook says that in an internal study of 20 retailers, it found a 2% average increase in offline sales for shoppers who were shown a Facebook ad compared to those who were not.

One thing is certain: marketers are continuing to buy them, pumping money into Facebook’s coffers. The company generated $3.8 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2014, a new high. That came almost entirely from advertising. And there are plenty of potential advertisers that remain untapped—Facebook says it hosts a total of 30 million active small business Pages, up from 25 million in November 2013.

Owners of these Pages are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that they’ll have to pay to have their posts seen by many users. Facebook has been ratcheting down the reach of non-paid posts, while it tweaked its News Feed algorithm in January to cut down on promotional posts.

The company is pivoting to promote Pages as a free, simple alternative to a hosted website rather than a free way to get into users’ News Feeds. Nearly a billion people visited Facebook pages directly in October, the company says. “While organic distribution has gone down, as more people have come on the platform, it’s still really the only organic distribution or free distribution that small businesses can get that I’m aware of,” Sandberg says.

However, Elliott warns that Facebook could change the design or utility of Pages at any moment. That means a company could spend time and energy building a Page, only for its efforts to become less valuable down the road.

As for Facebook’s future, the company is continuing to push its video product, noting that 800,000 small businesses posted videos in September 2014. The company is also experimenting with new presentation formats for Pages, such as showing dinner menus or items for purchase on restaurant and retailer’s Pages. As long as users’ eyeballs are glued to Facebook, advertisers large and small will be there too.

“They’ve improved the creative formats and they’ve improved the forms of targeting that are available to marketers as well,” Elliott says. “They still have a lot of room to grow on both counts.”

TIME privacy

How AT&T Wants You to Pay For Your Privacy

AT&T Reports 81 Percent Rise In Q2 Profit
Tim Boyle—Getty Images An AT&T logo is displayed on an AT&T truck July 25, 2006 in Park Ridge, Illinois.

ISP can track your web history and searches

The privilege of not having your every click tracked, saved and regurgitated in the form of targeted ads will only cost you $29 per month on AT&T’s super-fast Internet service.

The company, which just announced it’s bringing its 1-gigabit-per-second service to Kansas City, touts a price tag of $70 per month for the high-speed connection meant to compete with services like Google Fiber. But that’s actually a “premier” offering that allows AT&T to track a user’s search terms and browsing history to serve targeted ads. The standard high-speed service without the tracking costs $99.

AT&T defended the pricing model to The Wall Street Journal by arguing that the ad targeting helps AT&T make more money, which in turn lets customers who participate earn a discount. The model is somewhat similar to the discounted Kindles Amazon sells that show advertising. Companies with free, ad-based services, like Facebook, don’t allow users to fully opt out of being tracked while on their sites.

However, the fact that AT&T is an Internet provider means it could gather a more comprehensive picture of your Web browsing activities than companies with a less intrusive presence. That’s lucrative for advertisers and for ISP’s, but not so great for privacy-minded end users.

TIME Advertising

Watch the Hypnotic New Ads That Are About to Take Over Facebook

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Bloomberg via Getty Images

The new ads are oddly entrancing

With auto-play videos now being a firmly established part of the Facebook News Feed, the social network is reportedly planning to try upping the quality of the ads displayed there. A new ad format called a cinemagraph will reportedly start appearing in the News Feed soon, according to Adweek.

The ads are moving GIFs, but the motion is restrained to just a few parts of the image. An ad for wine might show a large banquet table with just a single glass of wine swirling, for instance. Or an ad for a newspaper might show a reader slowly stirring his coffee while everything else around it is static. An agency that’s been experimenting heavily with cinemagraphs, Ann Street Studio, features several of the ads on their website.

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The ads have a dreamy, hypnotic quality that makes them stand out amongst the multimedia assault most users experience as they surf the Web. Most likely, these types of ads would be played on loop, a functionality that Facebook just added to Instagram last week. The unique format might convince users to stop scrolling and actually take an ad in for several moments, which would be good news for both marketers and Facebook.

 

TIME Advertising

American Express Hilariously Taps into Nostalgia to Promote Apple Pay

Remember Seinfeld?

Since everyone loves the ‘90s, perhaps it makes sense for American Express to use old Jerry Seinfeld clips in a new commercial. The credit card company is promoting Apple Pay in a new ad that is a compilation of several old AmEx spots. Celebrities like Seinfeld and Tina Fey are shown briefly hoisting the famous green plastic in old commercials. Then, the montage culminates with a new AmEx user brandishing his iPhone instead to use Apple Pay at a cash register. Technology has changed, but this is the same old AmEx you know and love (if you’re in the habit of showing affection toward credit card companies).

Apple has a helpful list of all the major credit and debit cards that are compatible with its mobile payments service.

TIME Infectious Disease

9 Ways Advertisers Think We Could Convince Parents to Vaccinate

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We asked marketing execs how they would sell vaccines—and they dreamed up apps and celebrity cagefights

For decades, science has proven that vaccines work, but they still have a messaging problem among some parents. There are now 102 cases of measles confirmed in 14 states, many of them among people who are unvaccinated.

We asked advertising and marketing executives to share how they would choose to market vaccines, if the struggling medicines were their client.

1. Market them to kids. There’s a reason Saturday morning ads are all about food, toys and games. Getting kids to ask their parents for a product—a strategy called “pester power”—works. And it could work for vaccines too, says Bill Wright, global executive creative director for McCann Worldgroup (the firm behind ads for Verizon FiOS, General Mills and Mucinex).

Wright suggests an ad that says to kids: “Get vaccinated and you won’t get measles. Measles are horrible and hurt. And by the way, when you get a shot it’s customary to eat ice cream and get a small toy.”

2. Make it funny. Imagine an ad with a celebrity cage fight: on one side, anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, and on the other, pro-vaccine Amanda Peet. That’s the advertising fantasy of Robin Fitzgerald, VP/creative director at CP+B LA, the firm behind ads for Netflix and Burger King. “We have it at Caesar’s Palace and Hillary Clinton and Bill O’Reilly are in front row seats cheering on Peet,” she says. “Just so people really feel the hyperbolic ridiculousness and the level the debate has gone to.”

Alternatively, Fitzgerald sees a sequel to the film Clueless starring Alicia Silverstone, who’s expressed vaccine skepticism. This time, it’s called Still Clueless and Paul Rudd keeps canceling playdates with Silverstone’s kids over vaccines.

Humor is the way to go, agreed folks at The Martin Agency, the company behind the GEICO ads. “A campaign using humor makes the situation much more approachable,” says CCO Joe Alexander. Funny ads appeal to millennials, Alexander says, which is an age demographic more likely to think parents should have a choice when it comes to vaccinating their kids.

One of the most successful campaigns to try this approach was “Dumb Ways to Die,” by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia. In the video (below), animated characters die in “dumb” ways like lighting themselves on fire and poking a grizzly bear with a stick. The goal was to promote train safety, and the campaign went viral. Alexander says the same approach could be used for measles.

3. Try sarcasm. Imagine a somber ad thanking anti-vaxxers for the measles outbreak. Wright says a message like this could work: “We would like to thank you for bringing back archaic diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough. Yay, it’s like 1800 all over again, way to go!”

4. Get personal. We need stories that combat the narrative from loud voices like Jenny McCarthy, says Elizabeth Cleveland, vice president/planning director of The Martin Agency. But instead of hearing from doctors, she says, moms with kids who contracted measles should have the voice. Cleveland asked her own pediatrician for some stories, who supplied the perfect one-liner from a mom: “If my son can’t bring a peanut butter sandwich to school, then you can’t bring your unvaccinated child.”

5. Talk about measles, not vaccines. Go after the disease itself, rather than the vaccine debate, says Pete Harvey, creative director/partner at advertising agency barrettSF. (Harvey worked previously on highly successful “Truth” campaign against tobacco.) His idea? An ad with one simple message: “The measles are back.”

“That way, there is a common enemy that isn’t the person you are trying to convince,” says Harvey. “Everyone will say we have to fight this—no parent would say no to that.”

6. Launch a social media campaign. Find a way for everyone who gets vaccines to raise their hand and say so. Wright suggests creating a shareable graphic on Twitter and Facebook that says: “I got my kids vaccinated, did you?”

The idea is similar to the Human Rights Campaign’s viral campaign that got millions to change their profile pictures to a red equal sign for same sex marriage (see below). “It needs to be a coordinated effort, not a series of biting tweets,” says Patrick Godfrey, managing partner and president of the firm Godfrey Q. “Move [the anti-vaxxers] into a corner.”

Human Rights Campaign

7. Add a little fear. Create a film chronicling the measles outbreak, suggests Fitzgerald, who notes that she’d recruit Danny Boyle, the director behind the post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later. “We open in Disneyland, we see someone cough, and it takes off from there,” she says. “We market the movie by having big groups of red dotted men, women and children appear flash-mob style in public places dancing to Desmond Dekker’s You Can Get it If You Really Want.”

8. Make it a game. Create an app calculating your risk of getting measles, similar to the app “Am I Going Down?” which determines the chance that your plane is going to crash, suggests Tiffany Coletti Titolo, president of cummins & partners, the firm behind Jeep ads. Parents would input demographic data and get stats about the likelihood of getting measles, plus the unlikelihood that someone has an adverse event from the vaccine. For example, you’re 100 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine.

9. Whatever you do, don’t preach. The Internet has chastised anti-vaxxers, but simply yelling at them isn’t going to change a parent’s mind. In highly emotional debates, some people get very stuck in their ways—but it’s not impossible to change their minds, says Wright, who also worked on the “Truth” campaign against tobacco. “Before, anti-tobacco was very preachy—we just wanted to present the facts,” he says. “We found that the fact that resonated the most [with teens] was that Big Tobacco was just another preachy adult telling them what to do.”

“It’s all about parents wanting to feel like they have a say in the matter,” Harvey agrees. “If you say they shouldn’t, they dig their heels further.”

TIME Advertising

Google’s Latest Ad Will Break Your Heart into 50 Million Pieces

Animal friendship and frolicking as far as the eye can see

Looks like Google’s been taking notes on Budweiser’s wildly successful ads featuring a puppy and a Clydesdale horse striking up a lifelong friendship. In a new Android commercial developed by ad agency Droga5, the company shows off a bunch of unlikely animal pairings: a kitten and a pair of baby chicks, a cat and a dog, and a dog and a dolphin, among others. The idea hews to the latest Android slogan, “Be Together. Not the Same.” It’s a not-too-subtle dig at the uniformity of Apple’s iPhone line compared to the variability of Android devices. It’s very, very cute. But it may not resonate with consumers. Apple just sold a record number of iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, and one estimate by Kantar Worldpanel says that iOS overtook Android as the leading mobile OS in the U.S. last quarter for the first time since 2012.

Read next: 9 Ways Advertisers Think We Could Convince Parents to Vaccinate

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