Advertising: Burgers - tough on grime, tough on the causes of grime

McDonald's is really jumpy about everything now. It's all gone wrong. The glorious Hamburger Army of the Eighties looks vulnerable. That's why the advertising has been all over the place. It's been saying it's got delicious sophisticated new things that aren't at all hamburgery. It's been saying it's got special British hamburgers that Americans can't have. And it's been saying "come and see how clean we are" in press ads.

It's fighting on all fronts. People's tastes are changing, and basic burgers have become commoditised, low-margin things. There's pressure to introduce new lines faster than in the glorious days of global roll-out.

Especially since Fast Food Nation, the Nannies have been complaining that burgers make you fat and unhealthy. Presumably McDonald's UK picked up some anti-US feeling last year to provoke it into that weird "you can't have it, America" commercial in the autumn.

Now there's BSE in America. Panic in Chicago. McDonald's share price plummets. So it turns to Chris Eubank - well you would, wouldn't you? - and to the hygiene factor again, only on TV and much louder.

Eubank is riveting. His wardrobe, his curious face, his lisp, his archaic mock-heroic sentence structures - they all have the feel of an early black burlesque star. Earl Eubank 1927. His clothes really are great and brilliantly tailored on to his huge frame. How on earth did he come about?

Anyway, he's Sherlock Eubank now, standing outside McDonald's twirling his cane, asking: "Is McDonald's as clean as they say it is?" Then he's inside, coat off, wearing a blue hairnet and a monocle, doing the white glove test to prove you could eat off every surface. He's surrounded by McDonald's multi-cultural teenage workers, who come up to his armpits.

Improbably well spoken, they tell him they're all washing their hands because the bell's rung, or that you wear different-coloured gloves for handling milk or eggs.

"Was it Aristocrates," says Eubank, "who said cleanliness is the most noble of all virtues - or was it Napoleon?" I feel for Eubank when he has to say those lines, whatever they're paying him. When he started out as a self-construct, self-parody wasn't part of the deal.

"Ridiculous?" asks the voiceover. "It would be even more ridiculous if we thought cleaning wasn't as important as the cooking." Is that running scared or what? But the fact is that no amount of cleaning in the shop can change problems back in the abattoir, although McDonald's may feel it will work as symbolic reassurance.

Incidentally, when I wrote about McDonald's "British" burger campaign last year, I got a lot of emails from Americans saying McDonald's had once sold something very similar there, but withdrew it.

peter@sru.co.uk

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