Tag Archives: McDonald’s

You Want Anonymity With That?

It’s Foodie Friday and today we have yet another example of how privacy is dead, this time from the food world. OK, I might be a little paranoid here but I think I can see the future in how McDonald’s sees the future and it scares me. Let me explain and then you can weigh in on my thinking.

What Mickey D has done is buy an Artifical Intelligence company. They intend to use the AI to adjust the menu in the drive-through as you pull up. The thinking is that these adjustments will cause you to buy more. You know – promoting cold drinks on hot days or suggesting items that are faster to prepare if the kitchen is in the weeds to keep food orders flowing. It gets scary when the menu changes as you order, suggesting sides after you order your burger.

Now you may see nothing wrong with this. After all, Amazon does this all the time. So does Netflix, suggesting things to you that you should find of interest based on your past behavior. That’s not scary until McDonald’s installs license plate readers and begins associating your food order with your vehicle. Of course, it’s also possible that they could obtain a listing of every device that was in their drive-through. By the hour. Cross-reference that to available phone directories and automobile registrations and NOW how do you feel?

It’s yet another step down the road to full surveillance capitalism, at least in my paranoid mind. There are benefits, no doubt, to McDonald’s, and I’m sure they will be followed by others (maybe even others buying their systems from McDonald’s AI company). Do you really think there are benefits to us, however? I think trust and privacy are going to become even bigger issues for consumers and regulators over the next 12 months and if you’re not thinking that way, you just might be making a mistake.

What happens when Mickey D sells their frequency of use data to the insurance company who then raises your rates because you eat fast food all the time? Sure, when you roll into The Golden Arches while you’re 250 miles from home, it might be nice that they already know what you’d like, but I’d rather have anonymity. You?

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The Road To Hell

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s end the week with a Foodie Friday screed about the embodiment of the old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” To do so, I’m going to turn to one of our frequent subjects, McDonald’s.

While there are several ways the maxim can be interpreted, I’m focused on the meaning that even good intentions can bring about unintended consequences. That’s what happened when the fast-food king tried to improve things for their customers and, in so doing, made things a lot worse for their employees. As Bloomberg reported, the company is implementing new technology and pushing workers for faster delivery. While the intention is to help customers get in and out of the store quickly, the result is that it is breeding chaos in the stores as well as precipitating higher worker turnover. The unfamiliarity the staff has with the new systems, as well as the higher turnover, means that the food is actually taking longer to get served and drive-through times are increasing.

Another food example. Back in the 1970’s, catfish farmers introduced the Asian Carp into their breeding ponds. The idea was to keep the ponds clear of algae and plankton which would improve the health and quality of the catfish they were breeding. The carp, however, are aggressive and eat voraciously, eating up to 20% of their body weight in a day. They managed to escape the limited areas of the breeding ponds and have found their way to the Great Lakes via the Mississipi and Ohio Rivers where they are decimating native species of fish.

We have to consider even the most remote negative consequences as we put our well-intentioned plans in place. A zero-tolerance policy forbidding teachers from touching students? Great idea until a fight breaks out and teachers can’t step in. Putting a bounty on snakes to eliminate a health hazard? Wonderful, until people begin breeding snakes for the bounty (the Cobra Effect). In McDonald’s case, they had the best of intentions in reducing a friction point for their customers. They didn’t, however, fully consider the other possible consequences and that created a bit of a fail ultimately. Take the time to consider as many outcomes as you can and you’ll increase your chances of staying on the road to places other than hell.

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The Luck Of The Scottish

This Foodie Friday, we have a fail to discuss. I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a demonstration of abject stupidity or just a stunt designed to make some viral noise. If it’s the latter, it’s a very dangerous game they’re playing over at McDonald’s. Yes, they’re on the screed again!
As St.Patrick’s Day approaches, McDonald’s decided to promote its Irish Shamrock Shake – a combination of chocolate and mint – in Ireland. They did so with a little video clip they released on their official Twitter page ahead of St Patrick’s day, targeting their Irish customers. You can click through here to see it. What’s amazing is the number of things whoever did this screwed up in so short a period of time. It’s equally amazing that they managed to do so and offend their target audience.

The clip shows a man “playing” a Shamrock Shake like a set of bagpipes and there are multiple straws inserted in the shake cup to give the appearance of same. In the background, scenes of the countryside click through. The clip features the word “instrumint”, a play on the drink’s minty taste. Clever, right? Wrong. The man is wearing a Scottish style hat, playing a Scottish instrument to the very Scottish-sounding soundtrack. One of the scenes is of Stonehenge, which is in England, not Ireland. In short, just about everything in the clip is from somewhere other than Ireland.

The lessons are pretty clear. First, whoever did this could not have been Irish. When you’re targeting a specific group – and a country is a group! – have someone who is intimately familiar with the culture, preferably a member of the target group itself, review the work. The history of marketing is littered with mistakes by people who were writing in a language whose nuances eluded them or for a group of which they have no more than a passing knowledge. My favorite, by the way, is the introduction of the Chevy Nova into Mexico under that name. “No va” is Spanish for “won’t go”, not the best name for a car.

But let’s suppose this was done on purpose. Maybe the creators of this were trying to have the ad go viral and figured they could do that by making it so wrong. That’s a very dangerous game since the hit to McDonald’s reputation has been pretty severe, even as the ad gets tons of earned media. Setting yourself on fire in the street will get you lots of attention but it’s a tactic you can only use once since the damage is serious and usually fatal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the folks at Mickey D’s here on Foodie Friday and I thought that if I were to write about a drink that contains more calories than 4 Krispy Kreme donuts I’d do so on the basis of the chemical swamp it contains. Who would have thought that the ads could be worse than the drink itself?

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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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It’s Not Just The Burger

This Foodie Friday, the topic is Fast Food. Specifically, we’re going to see what we can learn from the rankings of fast food chains in the latest Temkin Ratings Report. What the heck are the Temkin Ratings?

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Temkin Experience Ratings are based on consumer feedback of their recent interactions with companies. We asked consumers to rate three components of the experience, Success, Effort, and Emotion, on a 7-point scale. For each component, we take the percentage of consumers that gave a rating of 6 or 7 and subtract the percentage that gave a rating of 1, 2, or 3. This results in a “net goodness” rating for each of the three components. The overall Temkin Experience Rating is an average of the three “net goodness” percentages.

In other words, they’re measuring if customers could do what they wanted to do, how easy it was to complete the interaction and their overall feelings about the interaction. In this case, it might be if the chain had the food item you wanted or prepared it the way you asked, was there a long wait or other impediment to you getting you food, and how pleasant the experience was.

Here is the business paradox and perhaps a learning. McDonald’s and Burger King didn’t do very well. In fact, as one site reported:

McDonald’s ranked dead-last among fast-food restaurants in the report, but there must be a masochistic streak among American consumers. Though the restaurant remains one of “the most commonly disliked fast-food establishments” in the U.S., last month Nation’s Restaurant News reported that McDonald’s is also the most-visited chain in the country.

So here is the question.  McDonald’s has placed a lot of emphasis on improving the menu – healthier items, more organic ingredients – and they now offer their popular breakfast items all day.  Sales are much better, and revenue and profits are two critical boxes on the scorecard in business.  I get that.  However, maybe they should have been spending more time improving the customer experience.  I can’t imagine that there is any sense of loyalty here.  The ratings seem to indicate that consumers go to McDonald’s either because it’s cheap or convenient and not out of any sense of enjoyment.  I don’t see that as a formula for long-term customer retention.

The thing for us to remember is that customers aren’t looking at your balance sheet.  They look at the product or service as well as the totality of their interaction with you.  If you’re not measuring and taking those things into account as you compile the financials, you’re probably missing a critical part as you analyze the health or your business.  Make sense?

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Unhealthy Salads

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week comes to us courtesy of the folks at McDonald’s. I happen to like fast food as much as the next person even if I rarely eat it anymore. It’s not a shock to anyone that fast food generally isn’t the optimal way to eat, even if it provides good value for the money. As the trend toward healthier eating has spread, companies such as McDonald’s have seen large sales declines. To their credit, McDonald’s has reversed that problem, mostly by serving their breakfast menu all day long.

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other way that McDonald’s has tried to fix the sales problem is by offering healthier menu choices, and that’s our subject today as well as our business point. While they’re still testing some of the new items in this country, in Canada they’ve rolled out a full line of salads featuring kale. After all, what screams “good food choice” more loudly than a salad, right?  Unfortunately, the screaming hasn’t been very positive, as these articles demonstrate.  In fact, when the CBC took a look at the nutrition contained in the new salads they found that:

Some of its nutrient-enhanced meals are actually comparable to junk food, say some health experts. One of McDonald’s new kale salads has more calories, fat, and sodium than a Double Big Mac.

They also found that the Fruit and Maple Oatmeal has close to the sugar in a can of Coke.  Of course, it’s possible to remedy some of the problem by using less dressing on the salad (that’s where a lot of the calories and fat lie) or skipping McDonald’s completely.  But that is neither the problem nor the business point.  Those are about living up to the promises we make.

What McDonald’s is trying to do is to draw consumers in with the promise of a healthier food choice at a great value.  The reality is that most consumers won’t realize that they’re better off eating a Big Mac.  They hear “kale” and “salad” and assume they’re making a healthy choice.  Is that false advertising?  Not exactly, but it sure seems misleading.  That is a big no-no is my book.  Sure, they’re trying to be transparent – the nutritional information of all of their menu items is available – but why should consumers have to double-check?  As marketers, we need to be sure that the messages we send are accurate, even if they’re subliminal.  I think these salads fail that test.  You?

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No Good Deed…

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foodie Friday fun time, and this week it’s fast food. Oh, sorry – Quick Service Restaurants. No, this isn’t going to be a polemic on the horrors of what’s served in many of these places. Instead, I’d like to focus for a moment on what the category leader has announced and some of the responses to it.

I find it instructive and you might as well. You might be aware the McDonald’s is going to give away books as toys with their Happy Meals which are targeted to kids.  The books will replace the usual toy and I think giving away 20,000,000 books instead of a like number of toys is a good thing.  However, that’s where much of the positive energy stops.  As USA Today reported:

…this new series of four kids books is hardly comprised of Caldecott Medal winners. Rather, the four books are based on McDonald’s own animated animals, including a goat, ant, dodo bird and, yes, a dinosaur.

Now McDonald’s had given out books at least 15 times previously but this is the first time the books have been created by their ad agency.  The cynics would say that since the books try to tell the kids about healthy eating from characters associated with the McDonald’s brand, kids might think McDonald’s is healthy food.  NY Times food writer Mark Bittman asked this:

If McDonald’s wanted to be on the right side of history, it would announce something like this: ‘Starting tomorrow, we’re not offering soda with Happy Meals except by specific request. And starting Jan. 1, at every McDonald’s, we’ll be offering a small burger with a big salad for the price of a burger and fries to anyone who asks for it; we’re also adding a chopped salad McWrap. We challenge our competitors to follow us in making fast food as healthful as it is affordable, and we dare our critics to say we’re not changing.

What’s the business point?  We can’t say one thing and appear to do another.  Simple, right?  Maybe to say, but we have to examine the entirety of our activities – both marketing-based and otherwise – to make sure that our words and our actions are aligned.  There are many people who look at everything companies do with a cynical eye and they have the tools and platforms to make their feelings known.  Anything associated with making money is subject to that skeptical review and the above is a good demonstration of how our good intentions can be undercut.

Does that make sense?

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