What is in this article?:
- The rise and fall of the Happy Meal
- McDonald’s millennial problem
As more and more fast food chains drop the cartoons and kitsch in favor of grown-up marketing campaigns, will McDonald's sales be stunted?
McDonald’s millennial problem
In recent months, top business publications have been pointing to the fast food leader’s “millennial problem.” For example, Ad Age recently found that McDonald’s didn’t even rank among the top ten brands for this critical demographic. How critical? According to an internal memo uncovered by Ad Age, McDonald’s defines millennials as those between ages 18 and 32, while others estimate their numbers to range from an incredible 59 to 80 million.
McDonald’s solution to their millennial problem: The new McWrap sandwich. (Burgers are losing popularity among young adults.) According to Ad Age, an internal McDonald’s memo says the McWrap “affords us the platform for customization and variety that our millennial customer is expecting of us.”
In a recent in-depth analysis of the McWrap, Business Week explained the new menu item as “a salvo in the Fresh Wars: a high-profile attempt to get the attention of customers who have turned to fresher, seemingly healthier offerings from competitors such as Five Guys, Chipotle, and Subway.”
Notice anything important about those three examples cited? None of them market to children. In other words, McDonald’s has no choice but to compete on an adult playing field, to consumers who are less interested in toys and clowns and more interested in fresh and higher-quality ingredients. But will it be enough?
So far, it doesn’t seem the McWrap will solve McDonald’s millennial problem. According to Business Week, the company is staying mum on sales figures. (The product launched in April.) According to one industry analyst, this probably means the news isn’t good enough to share.
So McDonald’s may have to go back to the drawing board and look for other ways to change its business model. Here are two suggestions that might help bring McDonald’s into the modern age and gain broader appeal.
- Retire Ronald: As this campaign from Corporate Accountability International explains, it’s high time to put this mascot out to pasture. He has done enough damage to kids’ health, luring them into a lifetime of bad eating habits. As the article noted above explains, mascots are so 1970. Plus, he’s just plain creepy.
- No More Toys: If other fast food chains can figure out how to be successful without adding made-in-China pieces of plastic to their meals, then so can the industry leader. It would also mean not having to defend against lawsuits like the one filed against McDonald’s in 2010. (The case was later dismissed.)
Lose a PR problem, gain business
McDonald’s knows it has a massive public relations headache on its hands when it comes to marketing to children. At their recent annual shareholder’s meeting, almost every single question aimed at CEO Don Thompson was about marketing to children and public health. Instead of taking responsibility and promising to make changes, the CEO unconvincingly denied such targeted marketing practices. He also feebly defended Ronald, saying he is “just a clown.”
With this position, McDonald’s continues to risk not only the continued criticism from children’s advocates and health professionals, but possibly even its own bottom line. Why not join the competition and benefit from the positive PR glow that comes with no longer targeting children, while appealing to more adults in the process? Seems like win-win: shed critics, gain customers.
This doesn’t mean McDonald’s has to abandon families in its business model altogether; it just has to change its messaging and marketing tactics. Taco Bell’s CEO Greg Creed told USA Today that many parents will be happy to no longer be nagged by their kids to eat at Taco Bell just because of a toy. “It’s not that we don’t like kids,” he said. “We’re empowering parents.” Well said.
It’s time for McDonald’s to finally move into the 21st century and stop clowning around.