McDonald’s plays with the apocryphal history of poutine

The QSR traces the competing origin stories to tap into Quebec's strong emotional connection to the dish.

How the combination of fries, cheese curds and gravy came to be remains a mystery, but McDonald’s is pitting three Quebec towns with claims on poutine’s origin story against one another, to leverage the emotional link between Quebecers and the popular food.

With the help of Cossette, McDonald’s (McDo in Quebec) is tracing the competing histories of poutine in a new 60-second spot, such as a cheesemaker in Plessisville, and Jeannine Vaudreuil, who was in Warwick in 1956 when restaurant owner Fernand Lachance allegedly combined fries and cheese curds for the very first time. The spot comes complete with a Princess Bride-style narrator reading from a big book.

“We leveraged the legend of the poutine’s origin story as the main pillar of the story we wanted to share in Quebec,” says Melissa Hains, regional marketing director, for McDonald’s in Quebec. “It is a well-known debate that has yet to be settled across the Belle Province.”

Regardless of which story is true, the important thing for customers is that McDonald’s poutine is now available in a new large size. According to Hains, it was essential to feature each region to show their contribution to the legend, but also to communicate how the ingredients McDonald’s uses in its poutine are all locally produced. Both of those are important factors in leveraging the emotional link the province has with poutine, which the QSR is focusing on more than demographic preferences.

One way McDonald’s is playing on the interests of different segments is by including an Easter egg in the campaign. The brand has hidden a code inside the creative, the first of several clues that will give people the ability to track down the URL for a secret Instagram page.

“Given the interest in the product within the province and a portion of the audience skewing younger, we thought it would be an interesting approach to generate additional conversation around the ad, as well as, increase engagement with the brand,” Hains says.

When it comes to engagement with the Quebec market, Hains says TV is still a significant media vehicle there, and effective when brands use relatable humour.

McDonald’s campaign rollout coincides with the arrival of spring, what Hains says is a strong moment for poutine consumption across the province.

While she would not comment on spend directly, she says the latest effort is equivalent to an important spring campaign within the region. In addition to the full 60-second spot, there’s also a 30-second version, as well as 6- and 15–second online versions. OMD handled the media buy.