Wayback Wednesday: McDonald’s Breakfast Ad from 1978

by James Thompson

Every Wednesday AdForum's James Thompson features a seminal ad from the past that in some way revolutionized advertising by profoundly impacting our industry, our culture, or the way our society interacts with commerce. 

The last few installments of Wayback Wednesday reached deep into advertising history by analyzing a Yogi Berrra orange juice ad from 1957, the famed Mean Joe Greene Coca-Cola ad from 1979, the iconic Apple Macintosh ad from 1984, and the uber-successful Dumb Ways to Die ad from 2012.

Today, we’re celebrating – for lack of a better word – the institution of breakfast by visiting the year 1978 and analyzing a McDonald’s ad featuring fast-food breakfasts that came in Styrofoam containers accompanied by a special 39-cent coffee mug offering. Nothing reveals more about our society than our advertising, and this ad harkens back to the days when there was little – if any – mainstream concern about the state of the earth’s environment, and 39 cents could still buy things. My, how far we’ve come – or devolved.

This week McDonald’s announced a menu revolution by, finally, offering its popular breakfast items all day long. Competitors’ responses – from IHOP and Waffle House to Denny’s and Dunkin Donuts – varied from humorous to cynical, which underscores just how valuable ($35.5 billion) and competitive the breakfast market is for fast-food brands. Modern day consumers have become numb to competing brands clashing on the digital battlefields of social media channels such as Twitter to position themselves in the marketplace.

This proverbial snark and one-upmanship makes us nostalgic for simpler times when the icebergs seemed just fine, and 39 cents meant the American penny actually served a purpose. The public perception of fast food has certainly changed since then, just like the uniforms for fast-food employees. Time marches on. Watch the video below for a look at how things used to be. 

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