A few months ago, I spoke with a major McDonald’s “Owner/Operator” (the company’s term for franchisee) for an assigned article. It was really one of the most intriguing 45 minutes I had spent in quite some time. We ruminated on the fast-food giant’s place in pop culture; the fleeting availability of Shamrock Shakes; and the implications of the Double Cheeseburger being on the $1 menu (which, to her relief, it no longer is).
And, most of all, it had me jonesing for McDonald’s like I hadn’t since my teens.
Love them or hate them, McDonald’s promotions worm their way into the consumer consciousness in a way that other corporations can’t come close to. The minor successes, like McRib, will make seasonal appearances for the rest of time. The major successes, like the Egg McMuffin, find a permanent place on the menus nationally. Even the spectacular failures, like McDLT, are never forgotten (hot side hot, cool side cool, Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, with hair, deftly dancing). The point: not much that McDonald’s puts its marketing budget into turns out to be forgettable.
I’m pretty sure McDonald’s latest promotion, free Mocha Mondays to hype the McCafe offerings, will earn that rare distinction. The McCafe effort is not a separate business, but is an internal sub-brand of sorts, with distinct in-store branding, designed to draw business from specialty coffee players like Starbucks and Peet’s.
August 3rd was the last day consumers could take advantage of a free, small-sized mocha, either iced or hot, just by showing up at a participating restaurant and asking for it. I did just that, selecting the frosty version in an effort to mitigate the summer heat.
Result? Well, it’s tough to complain about “free.” So I won’t, not really. But I sure as heck won’t be paying for it.
Part of McDonald’s food strategy is to pump up additives like salt and sugar in an effort to appeal to the greatest masses, but perhaps to the detriment of health and actual flavors. For the McCafe line, I suppose this means oversweetening and further masking the weak coffee-flavor and tinny chocolate syrup with a mound of whipped cream. Are you familiar with the sensation of downing a Big Mac, all 580 calories of it, and still being hungry? The free iced mocha mirrors that effect: blood sugar = spiked; caffeine levels = still pretty low; palate = craving something with a depth of flavor even more than before.
Okay, sure, just one man’s opinion. The fast food mega-giant has proven remarkably recession resistant, and credits the McCafe initiative as one of the reasons, reporting comparable U.S. sales increase of 3.5 percent in second quarter 2009. So perhaps I am not the target audience.
But I know this much: despite dubious nutritional value, the Egg McMuffin remains at the top of my “stuff to buy when I need junk food” list. But if I want to pay $3 for a cloyingly sweet 310 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 42 carbs (that’s the medium) — I’ll stick with this kind of stuff.
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