Ba-da-da-da-da…We’re Not Lovin’ It
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit.” – W.C. Fields
As one of the numerous Millennials McDonald’s Corporation is trying to reach, I feel the only advice that I can give the company is to consider taking what W.C. Fields said into serious consideration. Over the past six months I have documented the abundance of missed steps McDonald’s has made, and it’s evident that the company is struggling more than ever with losing profits from international scandals, losing its main consumer base, losing its focus, and simply losing its own identity.
According to National Restaurant News (NRN), McDonald’s “U.S. same-store sales have fallen every month [during] the past year, except in April, when comps were flat.” Shareholders are discouraged by the company’s poor performance with some even requesting the resignation of CEO Donald Thompson. This lack of confidence alone can hurt a company in more ways than one.
In a time when McDonald’s should be dominating the quick service industry worldwide, it’s consistently falling flat. For example, the sale of allegedly expired meat in China tainted the company’s reputation in July 2014. Products from the Shanghai Husi facility were seized by local government agencies and subjected to an investigation. McDonald’s then proceeded to suspend purchases from OSI Group facilities in China. In August, there were reports that 12 locations in Russia were closed due to alleged sanitary violations, which many speculated the move was highly political.
With McDonald’s U.S. President Mike Andres, Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl, VP of Digital Julia Vander Ploeg, and all of McDonald’s Corporation’s marketing members in tow, the company started on its journey towards becoming a “more trusted and respected brand… [that] customers will feel good about.” At least that’s what CEO Thompson and the company planned on doing.
In August 2014, McDonald’s Corporation was in crisis mode, so what better to do than guarantee “60 second” drive-thru lunches only at 800 locations in the state of Florida. McDonald’s listened to its annoyed drive-thru customers and implemented the program, hoping to improve speed and service, but alas there were many conditions. Not only was the program implemented in 800 FL locations, but it was only on weekdays from noon to 1pm and the 1-minute countdown didn’t start until after the bill was paid. If the clock ran longer than 60 seconds, you were given a free sandwich coupon to use for next time.
In October 2014, McDonald’s Corporation decided to take an unusual and serious risk by asking the world to submit questions about the company’s food via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media – obviously targeting Millennials. At first glance, it looked as though McDonald’s sincerely cared what the health conscious Millennial thought about its brand, and by addressing top concerns about how the food is produced and prepared in “webisodes,” it seemed genuine. Unfortunately, efforts in trying to reach Millennials with backstories on its food looked “staged” and lacked credibility. During this time, Burger King offered its $1.49 10-piece chicken nuggets and redeemable Monopoly pieces at select locations. The competition was capitalizing on McDonald’s marketing blunders by easily stealing away its already shaky consumers.
As weeks passed and gaining the consumer’s trust neared the impossible, McDonald’s made multiple announcements in November 2014. The first announcement was that the company would put a new twist on its 11-year-old “I’m lovin’ it” mantra to a more mathematical-styled equation “Lovin’ > Hatin’.” The second was the company’s attempt at simplifying the already crowded menu by suggesting it will downsize its less favorable items among others by eight. In McDonald’s odd fashion, the company then proceeded to announce that it was implementing a “Create Your Taste” option which includes choosing from “a number of patties (single or double), the style of bun (seeded, buttered, toasted), the type of cheese (white Cheddar, pepper Jack, American), and 17 toppings and sauces (Big Mac special sauce, sweet barbecue, creamy garlic).”
Trying to woo Millennials again, McDonald’s hosted a “Hackathon” in London for any “developer, designer, startup-er, student, or just [anyone] passionate about new technology” to reinvent the restaurant’s digital experience. Then McDonald’s reached out to several ad agencies in December 2014, to see if anyone else could help change the minds of critical Millennials who opt for competitors like Chipotle, Five Guys, and Panera.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s spiraled further into the abyss in the beginning of 2015 by releasing two commercials that I’m sure the company meant to have good intentions. The first commercial showcased heartfelt messages regarding events like 9/11 and the Boston Marathon on outdoor McDonald’s signs with a children’s choir singing in the background. The reactions were less than desirable with one Twitter follower stating, “McDonald’s is presenting itself as the face of corporate kindness? PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES A LIVING WAGE.”
The second commercial recently released was a close-up view of the famous Big Mac and explained that “you can’t get juiciness from soy or quinoa.” To some, this commercial made stomachs growl for days. To others like vegetarians, vegans, health conscious individuals, and foodies alike (mostly Millennials), this commercial will make stomachs churn. Eater.com considered this advertisement “good-natured hatin’ on everything else.”
McDonald’s Corporation is clearly missing the point. We, the Millennials, were the joyful and ecstatic “Happy Meal” consumers at one point in our lives, but now our food requires much more than flashy digital apps and snazzy plastic toys. We care about the entire process: are the chickens and cows treated humanely, how is our food made and produced, is the food fitting our dietary needs, are the employees who take care of our food treated with respect and are they earning livable wages, and is the company we are buying from charitable and environmentally conscious? These are the concerns of Millennials.
Outside of W.C. Fields’ advice, I have four possible solutions for McDonald’s Corporation: 1) Go back to the basics that founder Roy Kroc intended the brand to represent in the first place. 2) Consider opening your arms to the activists who have been eyeing the company for months now. One activist in particular with the motto “invests in change,” Jana Partners LLC, recently purchased 800,000 shares in McDonald’s. This could play out like Darden’s complete Board of Directors overhaul. 3) Attempt to be less like McDonald’s. It seems to be working at the formerly named McCafe in Sydney, Australia, where it is now named The Corner. At McDonald’s newest of four “Customer Learning Labs,” The Corner changes the menu daily, offers a salad bar and “hipster burgers,” and comes with table service. 4) It is simple; McDonald’s Corporation needs to hire more Millennials. Who can talk to Millennials and understand their wants? None other than, well, Millennials.
Needless to say, McDonald’s Corporation is struggling with a financial crisis as well as an identity one. It will take time and a lot more effort for the company to earn its consumers’ trust and respect again. Until then, my mathematical equation remains questionable. Me = Lovin’ ? Hatin’