McDonald's: facing fat
strategic equivalent of a new car, new girl and new image, set
firmly on the shoulders of the same old idea. McDonald's, it seems,
is firmly in the throes of a mid-life crisis.
The 50-year-old firm temporarily diverged from its mascot Ronald McDonald in Japan for a fling with a glamorous twenty-something model. The move has now been followed by the fast-food chain opening kitchens across 30 countries to public viewings, in an effort to counter falling confidence in the quality of its fare.
On top of the misjudged "I'm lovin' it" slogan and makeovers that have delivered some of the chain's outlets in the livery of French-style bistros (aka the Champs Elysées), the latest moves have the mark of a company that knows it has a problem, but does not know how to solve it.
Certainly, fashion is not smiling on the Big Mac. Still recovering from the libel action against two activists in Britain that lasted more than 10 years and ended up as possibly the worst PR exercise in history, McDonald's has been buffeted by consumer fears about beef during the BSE crisis and, much more seriously, the rise of food politics driven by obesity concerns.
Yet, open kitchens hardly have the air of a sound growth strategy.
What is it that McDonald's thinks consumers will see that will be so uplifting? Ready-made burgers get fried; ready-made fries get thrown into oil. Is it going to look any different from the other side of the counter?
In essence, fat, sugar and salt are no longer the flavours of the decade, however they look when they arrive frozen, or as they are heated.
Yet fast-food still sells, and the children do still love a McDonald's.
The problem is that their parents are increasingly averse. Moreover, the competition in fast-food is now well established, and impressive. Go to Starbucks and you can have a posh sandwich with a fancy Italian name, a big coffee and a comfy sofa.
McDonald's can only do so much by going head-to-head with such competitors through smarter tables and glamour-model marketing.
And if it goes this route, it will further erode its market advantage in fun, fast and family.
Perhaps a wiser route would be to wean all the little kiddies onto some better quality in a for-children update that skips forward a decade or three.
This amounts to more than the carrot-stick option now newly on the children's menu.
McDonald's needs to throw out the tired and fatty past, and launch a new slate made with new ingredients in a new 21st century family-friendly environment.
It has the network; it has the history; and it has the need.
So let's welcome back Ronald, as robot or Olympian, and bring to an end all this clowning around with glamorous, visible fries.
Chris Mercer is editor on BeverageDaily.com and DairyReporter.com. He has also worked as a freelance writer and researcher for BBC radio and television and other media. Send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.