If you’ve read a book on branding lately (I mean, who hasn’t?) you’ll notice that they probably have McDonald’s listed as the “DON’T” example. Unlike certain “branding experts” who may have popular blogs that assault you with truly offensive pop-ups, and live off the 10th percentile of their subscribers, we’re not confusing brand recognition with brand integrity up in here.
McDonald’s brand promise is supposed to be quality. For the past 40 years, their brand delivery has been consistency at the cost of quality. Which is a thing a brand can promise. It’s just not what McDonald’s promises. Everywhere you go, you get the exact same kind of terrible food product at McDonald’s. Even more reliably than other, similar fast food joints. That global uniformity is admirable, it must take a massive mobilization of manpower. But it’s not quality, and the fact that some of us confuse one for the other speaks to the abysmal state of our public education system.
I’m saying all this because I think it may be the reason McDonald’s is having such a hard time with their social media. They famously made someone’s mom think they were about to kill themselves with their “Pay with Lovn'” promotion, and now they’re ambushing terrified 20-somethings in their neighborhoods and workplaces in order to force feed them Chicken Selects.
That ad makes it seem like maybe this guy is used to weirdos following him to the park and giving him cold fast food. The other one, which I can not find, is of a terrified white girl in biz. cas. taking a bite out of the chicken select like it was the severed finger of a fellow hostage. Believe me, I’m keeping an eye out, and you will have it as soon as I do because that shit is amazing.
This is a brand that has been living in a vacuum-sealed bunker, surrounded by their own butt-stink for too long. They tell their B to C marketing guys that they’re a part of their customer’s family, that they’re a friendly face, someone the market can love! This is the collision of brand-fantasy and brand-reality. People who love McDonald’s food are ashamed of that fact. When I have to throw away my bag of McDonald’s, I feel dead-hooker levels of shame at what I have done. At no point are the golden arches anything but a monument to the depths of my self-hate.
McDonald’s is trying, not to re-brand, but to realign with their brand, at least on paper and in the media. These embarrassing “fuck ups” may be, if not calculated, designed to fail gracefully, for lack of a better word. They’re one of the most visible companies in the world. If they get something a little wrong it can only serve to humanize the company we associate with anything but humanity lately.
Don’t be fooled. If the clown’s inhumanity to man didn’t jibe with our experience, it wouldn’t stick. Remember when Starbucks got accused of racism for their ill-thought out #RaceTogether campaign? Probably not, even though it happened just last week. Despite their fuck-up, it’s out of our minds in an instant. And most of the buzz about it has to do with Starbucks being misguided, rather than evil.
But that pink sludge everybody says is chicken nugget paste despite massive marketing to the contrary by McDonald’s Corporate has stuck around. Not because it’s true, but because it feels true. A company this out of touch with real humanity would feed us motor oil if it could turn a profit.
That’s the difference between brand recognition and brand integrity.