Degree of Transportation

Campaigns during Covid-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way brands communicate with their target audiences in a very short time. (profit focused) Brands try to present themselves as being invested in people and their products and services as being essential and ethical. The pandemic is communicated by many brands as a unifying force, “in which we are all together” (Sobande, 2020).

As a result of this impactful change in global marketing, the focus of this analysis is on getting a better understanding on how brands incorporate the COVID-19 pandemic in their advertisements and what different approaches look like. This is done by comparing campaigns by McDonalds and Coca-Cola that are inspired by the pandemic. 

The slogans of both campaigns show similarities, but the overall approach is different. This analysis takes a closer look on these differences by looking to the degree of viewer transportation.   

Both campaigns make use of narrative advertisement. Eujin, Ratneshwar & Thorson (2017) state that the advertisements are as a result therefore more persuasive, generating more positive feelings, more positive cognitive responses, fewer negative cognitive responses, and more favourable ad and brand attitudes. As mental simulation plays an important role in narratives, viewers can rehearse the events in an ad, making it easier to visualize themselves using the advertised product/brand (Escalas, 2004).

about the campaigns


‘Who will you make happy this summer?’

“In this special time, we want to do what we at McDonald’s prefer to do: make people happy and help them make others happy. That’s why happiness and being together is central this summer” (Swijtink, 2020)

The campaign is focused on sentiment and the need to bring people together again

People can buy the ‘Happy Bag’ in the app to surprise someone you love and to put him or her in the spotlight.




‘Open Like Never Before’

“We want to come back stronger as a brand and hope with this campaign, one of hope, positivity and optimism, to touch people and inspire them to look at things from a different perspective” (Bijnens, 2020)

The campaign intends to inspire people to be more open to life and to enjoy everything around

Stimulating people to share their intentions enjoying life more through making use of #openlikeneverbefore

72andSunny Amsterdam


“Transportation is a synthesis of attention, imagery, and a pleasurable, flowlike state, where one loses track of time and awareness of surrounding events” (Green & Bock, 2002)


Sometimes when watching a movie, you can feel really drawn into the story; it is as if you are in another world. This effect is called ‘transportation’ and is one of the strengths of narrative advertisement.

Green & Bock (2002) describe transportation as “a synthesis of attention, imagery, and a pleasurable, flowlike state, where one loses track of time and awareness of surrounding events”. Transportation is therefore an important factor to determine the impact of a narrative advertisement. In order to assess the quality of both narrative advertisements by McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, the degree of transportation will be used.

According to Van Laer (2018) the degree of transportation theory by Green & Bock (2002) consist of four elements: 1) identifiable characters, 2) imaginable plot, 3) climax and 4) key takeaways. All four elements are essential to analyse in the analysis of the advertisements by McDonalds and Coca-Cola.  

In the discussion it is assessed whether both advertisements meet the goals and description of the campaign.

Identifiable characters

According to Escalas & Stern (2003), identifiable characters are personas in the story that viewers can easily identify with. There are two main features of these characters that improve the identifiability: 1) landscapes of affective consciousness (what the character feels in the story) and 2) landscapes of cognitive consciousness (what the character internally thinks).

The grandparents in the McDonald’s ad are the protagonists. The story opens with both grandparents, remaining the only characters presented in the story till the 42nd second of the 1-minute advertisement. The children and grandchildren of the grandparents are the deuteragonists in the story and occur exclusively in the last part.

Looking at the viewer identification, the advertisement contains character elements which are often relatable for viewers. Although relationships within families can differ a lot, getting in touch with each other within the family and the joy and happiness arising from it, especially between grandparents and grandchildren, can be a relatable aspect for many people. Also, for this advertisement it can be argued that viewer identifiability does not need to have a direct relation with for instance age. Viewers can also personally identify themselves to the feeling of loneliness of elderly people in the beginning of the ad and with the related responsibility to look after each other by staying in touch. The affective consciousness element in the ad can be seen clearly  in the emotional faces of the grandparents and grandchildren  in the images below.

The only protagonist in the Coca-Cola ad is George the Poet. During the ad he tells a poem which is visualized with shots of people performing certain activities illustrating the Poet’s thoughts.

Almost all lines of the poem start with the words ‘What if’ and ‘I will’, used to introduce the examples on how you can improve your way life and create your own new normal self by making a mind switch. All these examples in the advertisement are a diverse representation of people differing in age, skin-color, gender and societal role. This broad representation increases the chance of viewer identification. Also, the central theme of the ad, thinking about life during and after COVID19 is a subject that many people can identify themselves with as it is the current state of affairs. Since the entire advertisement is built on the thoughts of the main character, cognitive consciousness plays a central role in the advertisement. The image below shows the affective consciousness element in the advertisement with use of six examples of emotional feelings.

Imaginable plot

According to Van Laer (2018) an imaginable plot is “a sequence of events viewers can relate to from crucial story chain properties”. Elements of an imaginable plot are:

  • temporal embedding (cause-effect construct giving the story a direction)
  • spatial embedding (extensively illustrating the circumstantiated world to concretise the story)
  • intertextuality (bridging the plot with a well-known story to enrich meaning)
  • verisimilitude (making the story lifelike and believable)

Mc Donald’s
The cause-effect relation in the advertisement of McDonald’s is illustrated in the first six seconds. The cause is presented as the feeling of loneliness of the grandparents by emphasizing the shots on the grandmother looking outside the window, and the grandfather puzzling while both staying quiet. The effect is stated in the shot at the seventh second in which the grandmother starts smiling while standing in front of the window, followed by the shots of her looking for keys and walking to the car in the garage. The cause can be described as the moment the idea pops up to go out with the car. Ultimately, the effect is both grandparents going on a trip, buying McDonald’s and surprise their (grand)children (see 2.3 climax).

Looking at the spatial embedding, the grandparents’ place of living is a staged décor including typical interior elements of Dutch elderly people (see image below). The fact that the grandfather is puzzling can contribute to the feeling that viewer is looking at a grandparent as this can be seen as a typical activity to conduct. The road taken to visit the grandchildren can be seen as a way to at one hand symbolize the feeling of freedom and adventure and on the other hand perfectly illustrate that the story takes place in Holland by showing typical Dutch landscapes.

Because of the lack of bridging with a well-known story, it can be concluded that there is no intertextuality present in the advertisement.

The verisimilitude of the advertisement can be seen as a point of discussion. As mentioned above, the décor, the viewer identification and the structure of the advertisement all contribute to the believability of the advertisement as all these aspects have a high lifelikeness. Nevertheless, looking at the comments on Youtube viewers find the following elements debatable:

  • The amount of dust on the car casts doubt on the validity of the driving licence.
  • The combination of an old car with new number plates is weird (Although shows that the number plate is correct) 
  • It is not normal and healthy that elderly people pick McDonald’s food when visiting their (grand)children

The cause of the cause-effect relation is displayed at the moment the main character gets a revelation and starts thinking about life (see left image below). This is translated in the poem with the lines “Stop, wait” and “What if we choose to be open?”. After the cause, 25 examples on how to change your mindset regarding everyday life are presented (both behavioural and psychological examples). In the end, the effect is summarized in one line which also refers to the opening: “So I’ll be open… like never before” (see right image below).

Spatial embedding has been conducted by presenting the 25 visualized examples of behavioural or psychological ways of changing your life. As mentioned at 2.1 Identifiable Characters these visualizations are very extended and diverse and are therefore extensively illustrating the circumstantiated world and concretise the story. 

Because of the lack of bridging with a well-known story, it can be concluded that there is no intertextuality present in the advertisement.

The verisimilitude of the advertisement can be discussed in two ways. Firstly, the diversity of the examples as discussed at 2.1 Identifiable Characters contribute to a lifelike image of the advertisement by including many different elements to which people can relate and therefore may find believable. On the other hand, by looking at the comments on the video there is discussion in the believability regarding the relation between Coca-Cola and the moral story. “You’ll have a better quality of life if you stop drinking Coca-Cola and soda altogether” (Keith, 2020). Thus, it can be said that people find the story and visualizations of the story believable but think that the sender of the story does not fit the message as the sender is responsible for selling unhealthy products and is talking about quality of life.


Stern (1995) describes a climax in a story as the key turning point to which a narrative and emotional construction leads with use of a crescendo. This crescendo can be created by use of obstacles that the characters encounter or emotional modulation as the narrative unravel (Bertelsen, 2011). Van Laer (2018) also indicates that background music has an important role in creating a feeling of suspense and is therefore a tool to create a crescendo building up to the climax of a narrative

In the McDonald’s advertisement are no substantial obstacles present, except of the search for the car keys, getting the car running again, paying a visit while taking measurements in account an dealing with loneliness in the beginning of the advertisement. All of these obstacles were quickly overcome by the main character.

Looking at the emotional modulation as the advertisement continues, the contrast between the facial expression of the grandparents in the beginning of the story compared with the end can be seen as a crescendo (see image below). Although the comparison between the beginning and end gives a clear contrast, the development of this concrete example lasts only seven seconds as mentioned in 2.2 Imaginable plot.

In the McDonald’s advertisement, the cover-song of Simple Minds by Wieteke Wijte starts at low pace with the string players at low volume developing through the story to a higher voice with the string players being more dominant. Click here for the visual representation of this musical development during the advertisement.

The advertisement of Coca-Cola does not have any concrete obstacles that the characters encounter as the advertisement continues. By looking more superficial at the advertisement, it can be said that the whole narrative is about overcoming the obstacle COVID-19 by being open like never before. This is referred to indirectly by using COVID-related words as ‘Keeping social distance’. Having said that, COVID-19 is not literally stated in the advertisement.

Looking at the build-up to the climax in a cinematographic way, it can be concluded that the alternation of shots building up to the end of the advertisement increases as the advertisement continues being at its highest during the climax. This also corresponds with the background sound. During the resolution part the ratio of the shot increases, giving even more attention to the moral of the story.  

The level of emotion stays the same during the advertisement. From the introduction on all examples in the advertisement are positively framed questions on how to increase happiness.

Unlike the Mc Donald’s advertisement, the video does contain spoken words and lots of background noises.. The difference between the introduction and climax is for example clearly present. Click here to see the development of the sound in the advertisement.

Key takeaway & moral

According to Carlson (2009) the moral is the story. The moral also makes stories a helpful resource for viewers to deal with daily dilemmas or issues (Singer & Singer, 2005). Van Laer (2014) indicates that the source of the key takeaways in a narrative can be found in the transition of an initial state in the narrative to a later state or outcome.

By looking at the slogan presented in the end of the video, it can be said that the moral of the advertisement is to be ‘always open for good times’ (see image below). This message is also communicated on the website at the ‘where do we stand for’ page (McDonald’s, 2020).

The initial state in the advertisement of McDonald’s is dominated by a feeling of loneliness and rustiness in the way of living of elderly people. As the story continues, the emphasis becomes more and more on getting in the open and enjoy the environment. Ultimately, the outcome in the end is the happiness of coming together with family again. Therefore, the moral of the advertisement is that you always have to stay open for good times. Looking from a commercial perspective, this is where McDonald’s comes in as the perfect partner for bringing this happiness and to help people to be always open for good times.

In case of Coca-Cola the ending slogan is also a good representation of the moral that Coca-Cola wants to convey with their advertisement. As described at 2.2 Imaginable Plot the initial state of the advertisement is the moment the main character has a revelation and starts reflecting on his way of living. He then does this by discussing 25 different examples of his view improving your way of living. At the climax, he concludes that you have to be more open to life by saying: “So I’ll be open… open like never before”. This ending climax can be seen as the overall moral of the story. It also presented as a hashtag in the end of the advertisement (see image below).




The slogan of the campaign (Who will you make happy this summer?) could be seen a well-designed summary of the narrative and moral presented in the video. The main theme of the video is the happiness of coming together and since the video is produced in the summer it is also time-relevant regarding the message of the slogan.

As also stated in the Key takeaway & moral McDonald’s does a great job in the video presenting themselves as the perfect partner for bringing people together, ultimately resulting in happiness. Because the goal of the campaign is focused on ‘making people happy’ and ‘being together’, the video is a good visualisation of this message.

The campaign is focused on sentiment and bringing people together. The choice to use elderly people as the main characters contributes to the sentiment. Secondly, the main story line as stated in Key takeaways & moral is about the journey of coming together. The combination of these elements results in a video that contributes to the overall focus of the campaign.

The action people need to take after consuming the campaign is buying a Happy Bag. During the video the product placement of the Happy Bag is only done once (00:41 -00:42). Secondly, there is no call to action in the end of video, leaving it completely unclear what the viewer of the advertisement should do.


The slogan ‘Open Like Never Before’ arose from the poem of George The Poet. As the entire video is built on the poem, there is a direct relation between the video and the slogan of the campaign. As stated by Engbers (2020) the campaign also uses display marketing in cities containing lines of the manifest by George The Poet presented in the video. This makes the video the central point of the entire campaign. The slogan may also appear recognizable due to its similarities with the slogan of the period 2009 – 2016 “Open happiness” (Beekman, 2016) making it even stronger.

Coca-Cola wants to inspire people to look at things from a different perspective with the Open Like Never Before campaign. As described at ‘Identifiable Characters’ the story consists of a manifest challenging the viewer to look at things differently by asking ‘What if’ and ‘I will’ followed by everyday life examples. This relates directly to the overall goal of the campaign.

As stated at the climax, all examples in the video of increasing happiness are positively framed and therefore contributing to the feeling of ‘hope, positivity and optimism’. This strengthens the connectedness between the campaign and the video.

The focus of the campaign is to inspire people and enjoy everything around. As described at ‘goal’, the video challenges the thoughts of the viewer about how to live and enjoy your life. This stimulating aspect increases the chance of people being inspired by the video. Therefore, the video contributes to the overall focus of the campaign.

The action Coca-Cola wants their target audience to take is sharing their good intentions of enjoying life with use of the #openlikeneverbefore. The video presents the accompanying hashtag in the end while at the same moment George states quote as a resolution of the entire video. The only shortcoming could be the fact that Coca-Cola does not tell people when and how to use the hashtag.

The advertisement of McDonalds for their new campaign “Who will you make happy this summer?” is a beautifully produced story with great cinematographic elements making the video believable. 

An opportunity missed by McDonald’s is the call to action. Because of the close relationship between the moral of the video, the goal of the overall campaign and the action that McDonald’s want people to do after watching the video, it is a waste that McDonald’s did not include a call to action for buying a Happy Bag.

Using elderly people protagonists of the McDonald’s advertisements have both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand el derly contribute to the feeling of ‘sentiment’ which is the main focus of the campaign. On the other hand, looking at the comments, viewers find it strange and wrong that elderly people pick McDonald’s food during COVID-19. McDonald’s could have tackled this by for example focussing on the relation between kids and parents.  

The cause-effect relation in the advertisement is build-up well by presenting a clear contrast in facial expression in comparing the beginning and ending of the advertisement. The world in which the story takes place is well designed and contains many elements concretizing the story, such as the interior of the grandparent’s house.

As described before, mainly the fact that elderly people pick McDonald’s food makes the story less believable.

The story did not contain any substantial obstacles that had to be overcome by the main characters. The obstacle ‘loneliness’ in the introduction of the story could have been more stressed in the story, which would have enhanced the contrast later on in the story. McDonald’s can also make the story more ‘round’, by adding elements of the intro-setting to the end and thus connecting the introduction and end. The contrast by comparing the beginning and end of the story would have made the moral even stronger.

The advertisement of Coca-Cola for their campaign “Open Like Never Before” is a creative and unique approach of telling a story about living your life in a positive way. The identifiability is very strongly embedded in the entire story due to the personal examples and variety of visualisations of these examples. This makes the video impactful.

The cause-effect relation of the plot is also built well. By making the circle round and connecting the quote of the beginning and end of the advertisement, the words take on extra meaning. The effect of increasing the last shot during the resolution is a nice detail. 

Although the emotional level remains the same during the whole advertisement, the increasing alternation in combination with louder background sounds create a good climax in the end. The fact that the moral of the story is the hashtag, opening and ending of the advertisement creates a cohesive and complete strategy.

A shortcoming of the ad is the fact the message (enjoying life) contrasts the impact of the product they are selling indirectly on human health. The advertisement got a lot of negative comments stating that it is hypocrite by Coca-Cola telling people to enjoy life while selling unhealthy drinks. Although none of the product Coca-Cola sell are healthy, picking Coca-Cola Light or Zero would have been more tactical.


A limitation of the analyses to take in account is the fact that the length of both videos that are compared differs (McDonalds: 01:00 min) (Coca-Cola: 02:12 min). The difference in length can influence the possibilities that the creates have to create a climax.

Secondly, the approach to narrative storytelling is different between both videos. McDonalds uses a story with a clear introduction, ending and has characters with clear roles. Coca-Cola on the other hand uses a more poetic approach and tells a story with use of thoughts and examples of those thoughts to visualize them. It can also be said that the difference in storytelling technology contributes to the value of the analyses because it shows that viewer transportation can still have an effect even with different types of storytelling.


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