We Wish You a Retro Christmas: McDonald’s Gift Certificates

Between now until December 25th, The Marketing Smart Aleck will feature some of the best, worst and most ridiculous Christmas commercials of yesteryear.

Gift cards are commonplace now, but back in the old days, kids, you had to buy little pieces of paper called gift certificates. And it was rare to see a retailer aggressively promote such certificates as presents in their own right. The exception was McDonald’s which used to trot out commercials like this one every holiday season…

The interesting thing about these spots, from a marketing analysis standpoint, is the shotgun strategy McDonald’s used over the years. The commercial above seemed to be aimed at parents, encouraging them to give the certificates as stocking-stuffers. Other spots over the years targeted different segments, like extended family members…

…iron-fisted law enforcement officers attempting to soften their images…


…and those who exploit small humanoids as a low-cost labor source…

McDonald’s still offers gift cards, but they seem to have abandoned the strategy of featuring them as a lead holiday offering. That might be because, in some quarters, those old-style gift certificates became shorthand for “a chintzy gift given by thoughtless cheapskates.” Or it might be because the recent health-related backlash against fast food has made some consumers feel that giving it to a child for Christmas would be tantamount to slipping a vial of rat poison into their stocking. Whatever the reason for their disappearance, these commercials seem as quaint and old-fashioned now as the concept of being able to buy a meal or a significant portion thereof with $0.50.

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