“Say McDonald’s to end this commercial”

This is an image from a patent Sony filed in 2012:


Essentially, an ad for McDonald’s plays before your content, and you can end it early/skip straight to your zombie film by saying “McDonald’s” out loud. It hasn’t been implemented in anything yet, but there was a fairly negative reaction on tech forums when it hit the internet last year.

This week, Brand Republic reports that Unilever and MasterCard have just launched something similar, and potentially even more effective:


On the left is the dreaded CAPTCHA form we’ve all got used to. On the right is a MasterCard branded version, which gives you some information about the brand, then asks you to type in a corresponding message (in this case, “MasterCard Anywhere”).

Fiendishly effective

Both these innovations are based on science, and will likely be incredibly effective. In ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion‘ (which everyone in advertising should own), Robert Cialdini explains that humans judge a person’s opinions by their statements, even when we know those statements were encouraged by a third party. More powerfully still, we judge our own opinions by things we’ve said and written, and will act consistently with them:

“If I can get you to make a commitment (that is, to take a stand, to go on record), I will have set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that earlier commitment. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.”

So writing “MasterCard anywhere”, while seemingly indistinguishable from the usual “RaiNInG HuTChes”-type nonsense, is actually a powerful statement of allegiance to the brand. It seems incredible that such a small thing could influence your beliefs, but the evidence is strong. Read chapter 3 (“Commitment and Consistency”) of Influence for more detail.

The really genius bit

Branded CAPTCHAs like these don’t just ask you to type the name of the product, as in the Sony patent. They ask you to ascribe an attribute to the brand – in this case, the idea that MasterCard is taken anywhere. Coupled with the consistency effect above, these simple reworkings of an existing form leave consumers with a lasting positive belief about the product. And best of all, they’re easier to complete and therefore less annoying than the ones we’ve got used to. 

A powerful, simple idea that consumers will actually prefer? Not often you see one of those.

3 thoughts on ““Say McDonald’s to end this commercial”

  1. John McGarvey says:

    Clever? Yes, and certainly an improvement on existing CAPTCHAs.

    But I think many websites should re-evaluate whether they need to put people through this step at all. Usually when people hit a CAPTCHA, it’s because they’re trying to sign up, to buy something or to otherwise engage with a brand in a meaningful way.

    Forcing this extra step into the process gives them another hurdle to clear, and will almost certainly lead to increased dropout compared to a process that eliminates this step altogether.

    I’ve seen a few tweets mentioning how clever this solution is from a branding perspective (which it is), but nobody seems to be questioning why we need it in the first place. Can’t we come up with a solution that’s transparent to the user, so they don’t have to worry about ‘proving’ that they’re human?

  2. Kris says:

    It is indeed brilliant… but won’t the robot armies captchas are designed to defeat find it inordinately easy to write “Mastercard anywhere” in the forms? I’ve always wondered why it doesn’t just ask us what year Columbus discovered America or something.

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