Tag Archives: branding

When Is A McDonald’s Not A McDonald’s?

It’s Foodie Friday and our Fun this week is an issue that concerns every brand. It comes to us from the good folks at McDonald’s (they seem to be Foodie Friday Fun regulars, don’t they?). According to an article in LeFigaro (h/t Eater), McDonald’s has opened a McDonald’s in Paris under the McCafe name that doesn’t serve burgers or fries. No McNuggets either. In fact, all it will serve is club sandwiches, salads, soup, and other typical cafe food. You know – the sort of stuff that’s sold by hundreds of other Parisian places which are really French and not an American company’s version of French. Yes, McCafes are nothing new but the lack of classic McDonald’s fare is.

Logo of McCafé (McDonald's).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written before about how McDonald’s is trying to get beyond the burger/shake/fries branding and into everything from kale salads to rice bowls. This isn’t about finding a way to be successful in France either. MickeyD’s already has 1,300 stores there and France is a hugely profitable country for them. Honestly, I’m not sure what they’re thinking. I can give you a brief anecdote from personal experience, however, which might be helpful.

Several years ago, my daughter was studying in Italy. I went over there to bring her home and we were walking around Rome, my favorite food city in the world. We passed a McDonald’s and my child begged me to go inside. I asked her why, as we were surrounded by wonderful unique trattorias, ristorantes and tavernas and she wanted something that she could find everywhere once we got home. That was precisely the reason – she wanted to feel, just for a few minutes, as if she was home and not in Italy. By turning the all-American McDonald’s experience into something French, they just might be negating one reason people like to go.

The more obvious issue for any of us is what our brands stand for. It’s one thing to open a different type of restaurant under a different name,as countless brands have done with many line extensions. It’s quite another to change the meaning of the brand by changing the core product. I’m not a fan of that and think it should be avoided at all costs.

When you think of McDonald’s, you probably think of Golden Arches, Ronald McDonald, Big Macs, and fries. When you slap the McCafe name on a place that contains none of those things, you dilute the brand. Diluting a brand in its second-most profitable market is, well, not smart. I’m not loving it. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Who Are You?

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week starts at Taco Bell. No, this is not another rant on quick service restaurant food.

Taco Bell

In fact, I happen to enjoy it from time to time. Today’s screed is about a new product at Taco Bell: the Starburst Freeze. “Starburst,” you say, “isn’t that candy?” Why yes. Taco Bell is selling a candy-flavored slush that, in the words of an Eater story, kind of looks like icy Pepto-Bismol. Yummy!

Putting aside the appropriateness of any food business selling what looks like something to relieve indigestion, there is another point this product raises.  Obviously this is a cobranded item.  Cobranding is not uncommon in business.  Some examples include Crest Plus Scope, Tide Plus Febreeze and Dawn Plus Olay – all brands owned by Proctor & Gamble and there are numerous products involving to discrete companies as well.  That’s not my issue.

Taco Bell is pseudo Tex-Mex food.  While we can debate the merits of a Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch, the inclusion of Doritos – a corn chip arising from Mexican food if one digs deeply enough – makes sense.  It relates to the core positioning of the brand.  It fits on the menu.  Strawberry Starbursts?  Not so much.  Other freeze drinks on their menu – one with Dr. Pepper and another with Mountain Dew – sort of make sense – they’re based on soda served ubiquitously.  If the shake was a chocolate candy and had cinnamon, almonds and chipotle, one could argue they were being extremely authentic to the brand since that’s a very Mexican shake.  Maybe they should have paired with Almond Joy?

Any time we add products we run the risk of diluting our core brand perception. Trying to be all things to everyone just means we slide toward commodity status.  We need to state who we are as brands and do nothing that makes the consumer wonder if that initial brand statement is still true.  If they’re asking “who are you?” we’re in trouble. Unless you enjoy competing on price alone, which is how commodities sell.

The simple test here is to ask someone where would one expect to buy a Gordita and where one might buy a Strawberry Starburst Freeze.  My guess is you wouldn’t get the same place in response to the question which tells me that the latter item doesn’t belong.

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

Why Saving The Pots Is Bad Business

I’m not a fan of The Olive Garden which is our topic this Foodie Friday. I grew up eating (and cooking) Italian food and Olive Garden is pretty far from the cuisine I love. That said, I appreciate that it’s a lot easier for one to find authentic Italian food in New York and other big cities than it might be elsewhere in this great land of ours. The Olive Garden might have to do for those poor souls.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A hedge fund recently produced a very lengthy report on Olive Garden’s parent company.  You can read the entire report here – it’s a fascinating look at how a company can lose its way.  I want to focus on one very specific aspect of the report: the food at Olive Garden.  The lessons we can take from it are very instructive for any business.

One main criticism the deck makes is this:

Olive Garden has seemingly lost its Italian heritage and  authenticity.  (It) lost ties to suppliers that offered authentic Italian ingredients and Italian wines at compelling price points. Now Olive Garden serves dishes that are astonishingly far from authentic Italian culture, such as burgers & fries, Spanish tapas, heavy cream sauces, more fried foods, stuffed cheeses, soggy pasta, and bland tomato sauce. Olive Garden has moved away from its authentic Italian roots and now offers what appears to be a low-end Italian-American experience.

The deck has photos of dishes as advertised and as they actually show up on the table.  The difference is amazing.  But it was one last complaint – along with the reasoning behind why the situation is the way it is that really got my attention:

According to Darden management, Darden decided to stop salting the water to get an extended warranty on their pots. Pasta is Olive Garden’s core dish and must be prepared properly.

Uh..duh!  Which is the lesson for any brand.  Diluting your brand causes consumer confusion.  Olive Garden for tapas or a burger?  I think not.  Saving the pots to reduce costs at the expense of the customer experience is lunacy.  Damaging the product – especially the signature product – is a big step down the road to brand destruction.

Many companies lose their core identity in the chase for revenues.  That’s bad.  Hurting the products that got you to this point is worse.  It’s not, as the report points out, just one instance. Breadsticks are another signature dish.  “The lower quality refined flour breadsticks served today are filled with more air and have less flavor (similar to hot dog buns).”  Can your brand survive while committing this sort of product suicide?

Without a brand identity, you’re done.  When any home cook knows more about making your product than you do, it’s time to pack it in.  That’s true if it’s pasta or clothing or web sites or anything else.  Agreed?


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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Wising Up

Social media has been a fact of many people’s lives for at least 5 years now.  For many on the younger end of the age spectrum it’s been more like 10 years.  Social channels have gone from being something one did with a generally small circle of real life friends to being a central communications tool in many users’ lives.  We’ve morphed from “what ever happened to…” into way too much information about people who are only marginally important to us.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

One group of people who have learned to use social media exceptionally well in hiring are prospective employers and recruiters.  Unfortunately, what they often find does way more harm than good.  What’s funny and cute to your frat bothers can seem juvenile to anyone looking for a candidate they can groom for the next few years.

Maybe they’re wising up, however.  According to a new survey from FindLaw.com, the legal information website, more than a quarter of young social media users think that something they posted could come back to haunt them.

The survey found that 29 percent of users of Facebook and other social media between the ages of 18 and 34 have posted a photo, comment or other personal information that they fear could someday either cause a prospective employer to turn them down for a job, or a current employer to fire them if they were to see it. The survey covered Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and other popular social media.

A form of “day-after remorse” seems to be evident. Close to the same percentage of young social media users – 21 percent – say that they have removed or taken down a photo or other social media posting because they feared it could lead to repercussions with an employer.

Users are taking other precautions as well. The same survey found that 82 percent of young social media users say that they pay at least some attention to their privacy settings. Only six percent said that they pay no attention and only use the default settings when using social media.

We all know what can happen when businesses and brands aren’t careful about what they post.  Your personal brand needs to be handled the same way.  Assume everything you post will be seen (in the worst possible light, by the way) by prospective employers as well as your current boss.  Learn about your privacy settings and change them.   If you’d be embarrassed for your mom to see something, it probably doesn’t belong in a place where she can find it.

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

The Town Crier

Way back when, I suspect that no one much cared what was going on in Washington (and I suppose there are a great number of folks who feel that way now, but this is NOT a political blog!).  The things they cared about were what was going on in their own backyard and maybe the backyards a town or two over.  Media – basically the newspaper – was inherently local since in general news didn’t travel fast enough to make it timely for the daily or even weekly paper.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years.  The Times printed a story today about how newspapers are cutting their national and world reportage to focus on local.

Half of all papers said they had increased the amount of state and local news they published, especially “hyper-local” community news…the shrunken newsrooms have taken on added duties in feeding their Web sites, like producing subsites covering specific towns or neighborhoods, or posting articles in the morning and updating them throughout the day.

Given that a story in Moscow is on the web and known in NY within minutes (maybe sooner if Twitter was ever up and working), I’m not sure why this is a bad thing.  World and national news has sort of become a commodity.  Good local reporting is rare and there aren’t enough people in any town doing it.   Any brand needs to distinguish itself in some manner and regurgitating the same AP story as every other news outlet isn’t doing that.  Frankly, besides the Times, Journal, and a few other major papers, there isn’t a whole lot of original content happening outside of the metro desk.

So why do the news guys seem upset about this?  If I’m them, I get to the head of the line in my town before the radio, TV, and local web guys get there first.

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

Why it’s different this time

This is not a political post. That said, this piece on the Obama campaign’s use of digital media channels to disintermediate demonstrates how things have changed, even in the four years since our last exercise in freedom:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has launched a Web site to dispel rumors about his faith and patriotism and his wife’s views on race that have dogged his candidacy for more than a year.

This is what any good business should be doing now, along with, of course, using some of the more traditional channels to dispel untruths. The classic example is the rumors surrounding a series of poisonings and how it affected the product. While the response to the Tylenol problem of the early 80’s required J&J to work through print and television, both paid and unpaid, to get their message out, they also took tangible action beyond PR as they recalled $100m worth of product. Today, while tangible action is always key, when there is nothing to be done except present facts, that action must be done through every means available.

Regardless of your political affiliation, the use in this campaign of everything from Twitter to SEO and how it has made a difference is great to watch. I’m excited to see which side does a better job. Our election cycle is a very public example of short-term brand-building and it is a zero-sum game, unlike non-political branding. It has a protracted window – sort of the ultimate brand-building reality show. I, for one, am paying attention to the lessons we can take away.

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Filed under Consulting