French Fries, a Big Mac, and a Side of McTrax

French Fries, a Big Mac, and a Side of McTrax




On April 22, McDonald’s French fries across the Netherlands grew cold and limp as dine-in customers obsessively fed their innate creativity instead of their hungry bellies. Thanks to a new and newfangled contraption made possible by advances in quantum mechanics, folks were far more interested in the Golden Arches’ McTrax placemat than the food sitting on it.

It looks like a plain old paper placemat, but it’s actually a full-blown recording studio, which might sound like an impossible magic trick. But it’s not. Rather, the placemat contains a teeny tiny battery and a thin circuit board with 26 digital touch points, all printed directly on the paper with conductive ink. The simple “buttons” on the placemat are wired together with silver and carbon inks. To use McTrax, you simply download an app to your phone, which acts as the speakers of the system, and connect it to the placemat via Bluetooth. Then, you get to work kicking out the jams with in-house produced audio loops, synths, and voice recordings. When your opus is complete, you can add a variety of awesome audio effects.

If McDonald’s was itching to stir up a buzz on social media to compensate for falling profits, they certainly hit the mark. Or more accurately, their ad agency and its collaborator on the project hit the mark.

Enter TBWA/Neboko, an Amsterdam powerhouse of creative genius. They, along wiheir pals from digital production agency This Page Amsterdam, put together the placemat with the intention of bringing “technique, engagement and entertainment together making it ‘experience advertising,'” according to TBWA/Neboko chief creative officer Darre van Dijk.

Indeed, the company’s advertising philosophy centers around disrupting the status quo to elicit growth and change from within. Probably not exactly what you think of when you think of McDonald’s, but lucky for them, they found an ad agency that values insurgent genius, rejoices in spirited cleverness, and believes in the innate creativity of the masses. Although one day’s worth of customers at select locations across the Netherlands doesn’t exactly constitute the masses, it’s as good a place as any to start.

Erwin Dito, the director of marketing, communications, and consumer insight for McDonald’s Netherlands was ecstatic with the results, which he says went far above and beyond all expectations. “This is exactly what McDonald’s is,” he commented, “a place to have fun and experience great moments, for everyone.”

At the core of the McTrax placemat is AudioKit, an open-source piece of music technology that helps coders work through the complicated world of proprietary audio production code. Koert Gaaikema, the technical lead at This Page Amsterdam, worked with AudioKit programmers, who offered a shortcut that allowed him to develop McTrax without having to license any software or intellectual property, which would have made the project prohibitively expensive.

Whether McDonald’s will fully embrace the actual point of their ad campaign–which is to foster creativity–and expand the McTrax placemat to other countries remains to be seen. While McDonald’s wasn’t terribly forthcoming with information about the placemat, a spokesperson did say that the wild success of the Netherlands ad campaign–including the buzz it generated on social media–means that it’s got potential to be introduced in other countries, including the U.S.

So keep your eyes and ears to the ground, and maybe one day you, too, can spend a musical afternoon ignoring your Big Mac in favor of composing a hit single on the McTrax placemat.

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