Let’s Not Blame Marketing

I read the news about McDonald’s drop in same store sales, the worst monthly drop in a decade. I am waiting to hear the cry- "blame marketing". We need new advertising. Fire the CMO. It is often like a default setting that marketing must be the problem.

Some have speculated that McDonald’s isn’t attractive enough low-income consumers but the numbers show that their prices are actually lower than previously. Consumers are choosing to go elsewhere for value meals. Have we reached a saturation point and is consistency and sameness the problem?

Part of the problem is that consumers are sick and tired of deception. The commercial shows a beautiful product but the reality is a sad imitation. 

Although I prefer to cook, there are times that I’ll want to grab something quick and easy. Occasionally I will stop at Chipolte to take out dinner. 

It is a real value. And, I share their real values. 

I can get an incredibly filling and healthy salad with a ton of protein (grilled chicken) for about $8.  The quality of the food is significantly higher than McDonald’s and their ads don't lie. Their food looks real. Their chicken isn't pulverized and pounded to death. It looks appetizing in the store as you watch the cooks prepping and marinating it for the grill. 

You can observe the cooks grilling the chicken and cooking the beans right before your eyes. It looks like real food I make at home. And any food photography in ads make the food look like it does when I purchase it. 

McDonald’s and Chipolte are really in very different categories yet McDonald’s is stuck in an 1980's mentality of delivering highly processed, uniformed portioned food that is just less appetizing. To McDonald's their goal is consisting. To Chipoltle, its delivering fresh food that looks like the stuff you might make at home. 

The problem isn’t marketing or the message.  It’s all about the product that McDonald's makes.

Marketing can’t fix crappy products.

Marketing can amplify a story and highlight why a product is special or different or better. But marketing that tries to make you believe in a perception that you don’t see or taste is worthless. There is a disconnect at the store level between what McDonald’s sells and how the talk about themselves.

Advertising can raise awareness but when you walk in the store and get a disappointing experience, the effort is wasted. 

If they could deliver food as good as their marketing, I might stop by for a taste. But the perception is that they are making food in a 1980’s mindset in a 2014 world. And this isn’t just 60 year olds like me. Its especially millennial who have abandoned the golden arches for real food served in less factory-like establishments. Thirty somethings are often searching for local chains with authentic experiences that align with their own values. 

McDonald's is the antithesis of this experience. No wonder they aren't attracting a growing clientele. 

A Quarter Pounder Marketing Lesson
You can fire and replace CMO’s. You can change advertising agencies. But McDonalds needs to figure out how to deliver better, fresher tasting food or they will find themselves with all the sizzle of Sears and other 1980’s companies who never stayed competitive.

I’m not sure that we all want the consistency that has been the hallmark of McDonald’s. I like getting a grilled piece of chicken that is irregular and not the same every time. I want the taste and quality to be great but I am not in search of uniformity

Processed uniformity in a world that is shifting may be the root cause of the problem.

What worked in 1985 isn't going to work today. 

Chipolte takes avocados in the store and mixes them up with salt and lime juice and a little olive oil to make great guacamole. This is how I’d make it at home too. My perception is that everything McDonald’s makes is processed and comes in precooked or frozen beyond recognition. An efficiency is more important than the food. 

Micky D is trying to be all things to all people but probably not serving anyone. The food demands of the population are shifting. How can they reinvent themselves so they can be relevant again to a new generation? 

McDonald's is trying to address misperceptions about the quality of their food through a Twitter campaign called Questions and Answers on https://twitter.com/McDonalds. I'll be watching to see what, if any impact it has on perception of the brand. I still believe their issue isn't perception. It is the food itself. 

Lessons for Brands
Is your brand stuck trying to use your marketing to cover up your product deficiencies? Are you hoping that a promotion or ad campaign or social media can distract customers from seeing your lame product? 

Great marketing happens when the product is so great, so special and so unusual that customers want to tell their friends about you. Marketing isn’t what the brand manager does. It is what the product does for you.

Go fix your product. Then tell your stories. 


Does your product live up to the advertising message? Maybe a little grilling from me can assist you in growing your business. Connect with me through Clarity and I'll be happy to coach you to align your product strategy and messaging into a cohesive approach to marketing. I can also teach you how to make a mean grilled chicken marinated in Moroccan spices. 

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