Preferred Reading / Differential Decoding
Preferred reading is when the audience responds the way the media creator wants them to.
But sometimes the audience don’t take that message away from the piece of media. They “decode” it differently.
In this McSpicy ad from Summer 2021, customers were informed of the spicy product, and the marketing campaign aimed to start a #McSpicyDebate about the subjectivity of spicy food. Some found it a mild taste experience – while others found it hotter than they expected.
The billboard aimed to show a range of responses to the meal. For some customers, it was a “Lil’ kick”, for others “Pretty spicy actually”, ” HOT, HOT, HOT” or “My mouth’s on FIRE!”
From the campaign:
The work plays on the subjectivity of how spicy food is by encouraging people to take part in a #McSpicyDebate on social media.
With media handled by OMD, live results from Twitter polls will be displayed on digital panels around the country that will also show user-generated Tweets. The campaign will also run on display and other social media channels.
The promotion of the McSpicy definitely got a range of responses from customers, some of whom posted reviews on YouTube. The campaign encouraged everyone to get involved in the #McSpicyDebate and share their feelings using the hashtag and RATE the flavour using one of the four choices on the billboard.
Yet, some drive-through customers in at least one Scottish McDonalds branch thought the billboard suggested four levels of spiciness. And tried to order them.
Colour (and Nandos)
The problem might be compounded for those who are familiar with the Nando’s chilli logo which uses a similar colour scheme to indicate the different levels of hotness in their Peri sauces.
I think this is a fascinating example of how customers can respond to billboards and new products. It’s also interesting to see how colours are being used to indicate different meanings, or in this case, levels of spiciness.
This is in no way a criticism of a campaign that I really like, with Twitter polls, emojis and more, creating awareness and interaction. Neither had I tried the McSpicy.
The customer responses are anecdotal and not widespread, yet I find them really interesting.
The billboard doesn’t explicitly suggest that there are four levels of heat, but neither does it categorically say that there is only one McSpicy.
So is the billboard to blame – or are the customers at fault?
And if customers are excited by a variety of heat levels in a McSpicy then next time should those flavours be considered?