McDonald’s Fatal Marketing Flaw and How to Fix It

I know that this blog post is totally off topic. But bear with me.

McDonald's marketing? I'm not lovin' it
McDonald’s marketing? I’m not lovin’ it.


Think about this: When you want a hamburger, does an ad for oranges, milk, and yogurt entice you? What if the ad also tells you to exercise?

This week McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson stepped down after more than 25 years with the company. It’s been a dismal year for the fast food giant—low monthly sales, a tainted meat scandal, etc. There have also been some court rulings on McDonald’s relationship with the employees in its franchised restaurants that have not bolstered confidence in the way the corporation is run.

But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I have a humble suggestion for Thompson’s successor and his marketing and advertising departments: Quit bowing to the food police and advertise what you really are—fast food.

What do I mean? Well, as a mother and a former PR/marketing professional, my worlds collide the second my son turns on the television. (Yes, he watches TV. He also plays video games, although he’s not a huge fan of fast food. But I love fast food, and I am not ashamed to admit it).

The ads that annoy me the most? The McDonald’s Happy Meal.

It’s not because the ads have a stupid jingle (Stompies, anyone?), or that they make my son churn with envy (anything Lego). It’s because McDonald’s has it all wrong. They don’t understand their market, they don’t understand their product, and they certainly don’t understand their consumer benefits.

What do I mean? If you turn on any of the kid-centered TV networks, the you’ll find ads touting the goodness of yogurt, milk, oranges. The ads will talk about the fun of exercise and the importance of reading. And these ads for for the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Exercise, oranges and milk are NOT benefits that McDonald’s customers want. That’s what HOME is for.

The corporation has bowed to critics who claim that the Happy Meal is junk food and should be more healthy. But it’s not McDonald’s job to fight the obesity crisis. It’s their job to sell food. Their product is comfort fast food. Their market is people who want comfort fast food. The benefit is that comfort fast food makes people happy (McDonald’s french fries make me very happy). But McDonald’s has totally lost sight of that.

Let’s face it, McDonald’s: Leave the health food to Whole Foods and stick to what you know. If I want my kid to have the goodness of oranges, yogurt, and milk, I will open the fridge and give it to him. If I have a hankering for junk food, I will go to a hamburger joint.

But I am not going to go to McDonald’s (food quality aside), because their ads keep trying to tell me to eat healthy and get more exercise. I get plenty of exercise and I eat healthy 88% of the time. I go to fast food for a TREAT. So instead, I am going to go to Carl’s Jr. or In-N-Out, because they make no excuses for what they are. And really: why is a fast food restaurant telling kids to exercise? That’s not their mission. Their mission is FOOD.

It’s time for McDonald’s to tell the health food lobby to lump it and embrace who they are: fast food that reminds you of childhood. They should market themselves like other fast food places, with good, “hamburger joint” food for special occasions and treats.

If people decide to eat there every day, that’s their decision. But I’ll tell you this: the people who eat there every day aren’t eating oranges and yogurt.

But I doubt the McDonald’s folks will listen to me …



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