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What the #*$& is wrong with McDonald’s? Here’s five things wrong.

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imagesI’ve been confused about McDonald’s marketing the past year, mainly because it appears that McDonald’s is confused about their marketing. That coincides with poor business results, in a downward trend for each of the past 9 months, with February’s numbers showing a deepening issue–down 4% versus last year. “Consumer needs and preferences have changed,” the company said in Monday’s statement. “McDonald’s current performance reflects the urgent need to evolve with today’s consumers, reset strategic priorities and restore business momentum.”

McDonald’s are in desperate need for a RE-FOCUS, so they can get everyone focused on what matters the most. There needs to be an alignment of the team, a return behind their strengths and a return to the fundamentals. The issue with the culture at McDonald’s is that it’s very top-down insular culture with very little outside thinking–which is great when things are going well, but will be tough to battle through when things aren’t going so well.  

Here’s the top 5 potential things wrong with McDonald’s. 

McDonald’s is not aligned with the trend towards healthy eating. 51JW1207ZALThat’s obvious, but that was also equally obvious the past 5 years ago when they grew an average of 10% a year, even +13% the year after the “Super Size Me” movie came out. Also, there are a few examples of indulgent brands that have done well (e.g. 5 Guys), in countering the health trend, to use it as a regular escape from your diet.McDonald’s scored high marks for putting calories on their menu, but bad publicity when they fought NYC on the size of drinks they serve. So while this might be part of the decline, I’m not sure this is the main reason for the decline. McDonald’s should be able to still find growth in this market. 

McDonald’s lacks a product-identity of what it’s now the best at. I’m older so I still think of it as a fast-food burger & fries place. But the menu has become so diverse, I’m no longer sure consumers know what McDonald’s is all about. Without a main product identity where it can win, McDonald’s runs the risk of being second fiddle to everyone they compete against–second fiddle to 5 Guys on burgers, to Dairy Queen on Shakes, to Chick-Fil-A on chicken, to Starbucks on Coffee and Subway on sandwiches. A great case study for McDonald’s is what happened with Starbucks in 2009, where they closed every Starbucks for a day to re-train baristas and send a signal that they are a coffee place. Here’s what I wrote about the Starbucks Case Study: The Starbucks Come Back story: Losing their focus, only to regain it!!!  McDonald’s should re-claim the stake that they are the best burger. They should have done this the past 12-24 months before allowing 5 Guys to get to 1500 locations. They need to own the burger. 

Slide1No one wants to know how sausage is made. I know the internet is attacking McDonald’s all the time about using bleach in their burgers and pink goop in their chicken but we don’t really need McDonald’s mass media to tell us their burgers are made from 100% real beef and their chicken is made from 100% real chicken. I always assumed it was, but now that you bring attention to it, you’re kind of grossing me out. McDonald’s took it a step farther with this on-line video they produced.  Here’s what I wrote last spring: McDonald’s takes a wonderful Advertising idea…and makes a complete disaster out of it  While they might think this video works to explain what their brand is about, I find this video makes me never want a nugget again in my life. As CNN reports below, it’s not pink goop, it’s beige goop and it sure doesn’t make you hungry.   Looking at the options above, McDonald’s should be focused on the heart and the soul of their consumers. McDonald’s needs less attention on the product and more on the magic of the idea of the brand–as the fun little escape for lunch place. 

The experience is now slow and not really that cheap. Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s that grew so fast in the 1960s and 70s was vested in the strong values of quality, service, cleanliness and value. People were trained the McDonald’s way and as a customer you benefited from fast, friendly service and franchises were expected to keep a clean, well-run restaurants. The last few times I’ve been, the speed has been disastrous–you order and then wait 5-10 minutes for them to yell out your number. There is no way the service is friendly–as I rarely hear manners from a McDonald’s employee. Manners are free and can go a long way in making a difference.  

mccafe-headerThe McCafe branding and restaurant re-design. Here’s an article I wrote on McDonald’s launch into the coffee market two years ago: Can McDonald’s win the Coffee War? Not a chance. But two years later, it’s even more important to realize that not only is Starbucks winning, but the investment McDonald’s has put into the coffee launch has taken away from investing in their core fast food business. McDonald’s put major capital into putting fake fireplaces into most locations–major costs that still resemble a plastic play-land. The thing that drives me most crazy about the McCafe is they are hiding what they really are: the golden arches, Ronald McDonald’s, the Big Mac and french fries. While McDonald’s should keep a good coffee, it’s time to re-focus back on being a fast food destination. Get rid of the McCafe branding BS and just make it a product that McDonald’s has, not a separate brand logo that competes with the McDonald’s logo. 

As a new CEO takes the helm, it is time for McDonald’s to re-focus. There is a need for some creativity and investing back in creating a food experience that McDonald’s can win on. Re-train staff to be friendlier and faster for consumers Create magical brand advertising that bonds with consumers. My hope is that McDonald’s can get there–as it’s one of the hall of fame brands out there.

McDonald’s needs to find a reason for their consumers to love it again

At Beloved Brands, we run a Brand Leadership Center to train marketers in all aspects of marketing from strategic thinking, analysis, writing brand plans, creative briefs and reports, judging advertising and media. To read more on strategy, here is a workshop on HOW TO THINK STRATEGICALLY, click on the Powerpoint presentation below:


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We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

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3 thoughts on “What the #*$& is wrong with McDonald’s? Here’s five things wrong.

  1. It’s hard for me to imagine McD’s trying to position itself as the best burger. The most consistent, among the fastest, sure–but best????

    I always found it hard to even go into a McD’s, because the smell makes me gag. I thought of their burgers as low quality but very consistent. When I became vegetarian at 16, one of the benefits was that my (divorced) dad, who saw us on Sundays, could no longer take us there for lunch, and I didn’t have to choke on the smell.

    On the other hand, McD’s has done a reasonably good job of creating awareness in the green community of their environmental progress (better than many other fast-food chains), and often, the restaurants reap the benefit of community-mindedness among franchise owners (which may be why they have sometimes been left standing during riots that destroy many other businesses).

    But it’s tricky playing the environmental and community responsibility cards while selling fried fast food. A branding challenge, for sure.
    Shel Horowitz, GreenAndProfitable.com

  2. What a great study! I worked for a company who once thought advertising and a new logo would help. In truth, the company had lost its focus as to the experience it used to deliver. We got a new president and we were told to focus on some basic blocking and tackling. We needed to make sure we were fun, clean, safe and friendly. Four things you would think are basic but can so easily get lost in the shuffle. Once we concentrated on those things, we found the brand voice.

  3. McDonald’s is definitely struggling. They are suffering from what I call “on-demand disease”.
    I recently wrote an article on this very ailment and used McDonalds as the example.

    The bottom line is simple. Whether is it the Big Mac, hot fries, or being a green fast food restaurant (or something else) – McDonald’s must decide what they want to be known for and commit to being the best at it!

    It is not possible to be all things to all people and do it well. Those that try are easily dethroned.

    “The simple is not always easy” ~Dr. Linette Montae

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