Ol’ McDonald’s Moves Off the Farm

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cnnbrand.jpgADOTAS — Forget colorful ads set in playgrounds with frighteningly upbeat kids and adults insisting that they’re “Lovin’ It!” … Ol’ McDonald’s is moving off the farm and onto a nearby computer screen, The New York Times reports.

It turns out that McDonald’s is the secret sponsor of a mysterious, slightly dark Olympic-themed online game called The Lost Ring. Many gamers were surprised by the big reveal since nothing in the game was obviously branded and the game – described as a cross between “Lost” and “The Blair Witch Project” – doesn’t exactly conjure the face of a red-headed, grinning Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s is clearly attempting to tap into youth culture and is leveraging the popularity of alternative-reality games (which contain clues on and offline and have a social networking esprit to them) to do so.

“The Olympics in Beijing are a very big event for us, and we have a lot of different types of activation, with The Lost Ring being the most creative,” Mary Dillon, McDonald’s global chief marketing officer, told the Times. “Our goal is really about strengthening our bond with the global youth culture.”

The Lost Ring was launched in early March when 50 bloggers received packages with a clue leading them to TheLostRing.com. It was available in seven languages and clues were provided via YouTube videos, blogs, Flickr photos and Twitter updates, the Times reports. Offline, players found clues in a Tokyo mailbox and a bookstore fireplace in Johannesburg. So far, the game has attracted about 150,000 players.

The game is scheduled to end on August 24, the Olympics closing ceremony.

When gamers discovered the Happy Meal makers were behind the game, they were skeptical, but McDonald’s has won them over by shying away from in-your-face interactive advertisements.

“The players appreciate that they got this good experience for free,” Sean C. Stacey, the founder of the gaming fan site Unfiction, told the Times. “That tends to create a stronger bond between the player and the brand than having a straight advertisement.”

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