Friday, June 17, 2005

More from McDonald's Clowns

Hard to believe that my first book, The Revenge of Brand X, was published as many years ago as it was. Harder still is believing that even after its prediction of McDonald's slow descent into brand oblivion, the management at the golden arches still hasn't wised up.

If you read the book, you'd recall that McDonald's was one of ten brands I marked as good, but could do much better. I also subsequently warned that if they didn't get their brand strategy together soon, the company would experience its first quarterly losses ever.

They didn't and it did.

In its latest effort to shore up its withering fortunes, McDonald's has apparently succumbed to a combination of Political Correctness and Sheer Panic, attempting to re-create itself into a source for healthier food. In case you missed it, the Business Section of the Los Angeles Times has it right there on the front page: Ronald McDonald in his specially-prepared bright yellow skin suit, outfitted with the oh-so-protective, color-coordinated safety gear, launching an "ollie" on his newly-branded McDonald's skateboard.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "As part of its recent campaign to revamp its image, McDonald's Corp. said this week that it would begin selling branded skateboards and bikes this year at retailers such as Target Corp. The aim, the company said, is "to help make fitness fun. 'About time," said Dr. Naomi Neufeld, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCLA, who works with obese children. "They have the marketing clout if they can get these kids off the couch and onto skateboards and bikes.' "

Okay, so let me see if I have this right: A company that's spent billions of dollars developing and marketing burgers and fries is now supposed to be healthy and cool. Hmmm. Let's see. I get the part about being healthy, now that McDonald's is offering salads that have as much or more fat and sugar in them than anyone would reasonably ingest. But I just don't get the "cool" thing.

I mean, what 14 to 18 year old is going to relate to a clown on a skateboard? Say what you will, but Paris Hilton grinding up against a sports car has a lot more appeal than some Ringling Brothers reject trying to pass off salads, although neither is going to move any food any faster. But don't tell the marketing people about that.

Once again, I'm going out on a limb here, chastising the Caretaker Managers at McDonald's that branding works from your strengths, not political pressure. McDonald's was built on beef and Coca-cola and salty french fries. I don't care how many showings of "Supersize Me" they screen, a clear look at history is all you need to know that people are going to eat burgers and fries as long as they can buy them.

Oh, you want proof? How's this:

Years ago, the Wall Street Journal did a survey of consumer eating habits. The hypothesis was that with all the bad press fast food, red meat and processed sugar was getting, Americans must have vastly shifted their consumption habits. Companies were busy reacting to all the press hype and fluff, changing product lines and doing whatever they could to jump on the health bandwagon.

The only problem was that the survey came back to show that over 20 years, Americans hadn't changed their eating habits at all. Except for a 1% shift from beef to chicken, they were sucking down just as much junk, fat and sugar as they always had. It was sort of like those days when the ratings people would call to ask which television show you were watching. The caller would ask and the respondents would lie about the shows they were watching. For every "Masterpiece Theater" response, you could guarantee at least five "Flintstones" viewers.

But I digress.

Here you have the desperados at McDonald's, gasping for something - anything - to get them off their losing streak, doing exactly the opposite of what they should be doing, because they've forgotten what their brand was all about: convenient, good-tasting food. Instead of pandering to the media hype, the boys at the Golden Arches should focus on making a better burger.

And for God's sake, stop clowning around with skateboards.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, you need to go to Haloscan or someplace and make your blog pingable. :)

I posted about this (and about similar stuff coming from General Mills) in my own blog, here.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

I think blogger lets you ping, although I have to admit that it's unreliable. That's why I encourage RSS and Atom feed. Lots more reliability.

4:58 PM  

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