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Advertising and Imagery: Big Mac Attack! Essay

The health dangers represented by excessive consumption of fast food such as that marketed by McDonald’s, though gaining increased recognition today, remain largely unknown or unacknowledged by a great many sectors of the American pubic. This is the premise which motivated the image pictured in Adbusters and subjected to discussion here. Entitled “Big Mac Attack,” the advertisement parody featured here uses dark humor rather than dry statistical information in order to drive home the point to fast food lovers and the general public that fast food leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The ad’s subject is a surgery room, which does not in any direct way seem to address the images associated with fast food. With an EKG monitor occupying the left hand foreground, the right-bound background shows a doctor and an assistant poring over an unseen heart patient. From the perspective of the viewer, the patient’s feet are visible, poking morbidly from the blanket covering the otherwise obscured body. The sharp right angle of the EKG monitor cuts in diagonally from off-screen, with the whole of the machine not totally visible.

The bottom horizontal line forming the right angle serves to underline the lone print featured on the screen. The phrase ‘Big Mac Attack! ’ is featured here, as though a part of the EKG display. On the lower register of the vertical line in the right angle, a perpindicular line indicates the front edge of the thin bed frame. With almost perfect symmetry, the patient’s visible feet are angled outward and centered in this portion of the image. The two surgeons flanking him complete this symmetrical impression.

Other shapes maintain the rigid consistency of the image, such as the chart dangling from the bed and the operating lamp hanging just above the patient. The lone point of distinction from this rigid angular orientation is in the distinguishing statement of value. This is the image of the so-called “Golden Arches,” which have been superimposed into the heart monitor read-out shown on the EGK machine. Here, the familiarity of the McDonald’s logo serves against the company’s image-management.

Without depicting any of the themes such as fun, family and deliciousness that help it to sell its brand name, the ad invokes McDonald’s by using its household logo. This is sufficient to help clarify the purpose of the set of displayed images. Additionally, the farcical tone of the work becomes more apparent here. The faded and morose quality of the imagery here is interrupted only by the swooping image and its attendant colors. Indeed, the chromatic contrast here intended also plays a significant part in devising the impression to be drawn from the work.

Specifically, the bleak blue, white and gray which haze over the patient and his physicians, sharply supplemented by the midnight blue and black hues of the EKG monitor, drive home a sense of impending doom. In the midst of this, the red and yellow elements of the ‘Golden Arches’ allow this part of the image to draw the focus of attention. This underscores the value of the work, which is driven by both its criticism of the product in question and its exploitation of the success which McDonald’s has enjoyed as a tremendously marketed brand icon.

The composition is thusly conveyed, presenting the rather explicit statement that fast food can be deadly. Moreover, we are lead by the medium and approach to suggest that the authors of the ad parody also believe that McDonald’s advertising supremacy has been a direct contributing factor to the public health hazard represented by the public. This is, if nothing else, a small attempt recontextualize the brand image to meet public health rather than retail aims.

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