As far as brands go, McDonald’s is a biggie. Along with Coca-Cola and Marlboro, it is one of the few brands which is recognized in almost every country. As McDonald’s itself proclaims, its chain of fast food restaurants represents the ‘most successful food service organization in the world.’ There are now approximately 25,000 McDonald’s restaurants across the globe, catering to around 40 million people every single day.
The brand reached this position of dominance by arriving at a simple formula, and pushing it hard. As columnists Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer point out, simplicity is the secret behind the brand’s success:
“Henry Ford mastered mass product production; McDonald’s has mastered mass service production. It has done so through strict adherence to simple beliefs. Quality, cleanliness and uniformity are the basis of the McDonald’s brand. [. . .] A McDonald’s restaurant in Nairobi,Kenya looks much the same as one in Warsaw, Poland or Battle Creek, Michigan. [. . .] In effect, the very uniformity of the brand is the crucial differentiating factor.”
However, the McDonald’s ride has not been all that smooth. Although it has consistently held onto the crown of the king of fast food, the company has experienced a number of setbacks over the years. Apart from run-ins with environmentalists, anti-capitalists and other activists; McDonald’s has also experienced a number of more conventional marketing problems. Most of these problems have been new products that have failed to entice consumers. McLean Deluxe (an attempt to cater to the health conscious customer) and McSoup are two obvious examples, but it was with the Arch Deluxe burger that McDonald’s experienced its most embarrassing flop.
Marketed as the ‘Burger with the Grown-up Taste’, the idea was to have a burger which wasn’t associated with children. Indeed, the advertising campaign for the Arch Deluxe rammed the message home with various images of kids shunning the ‘sophisticated’ product. The trouble was that nobody goes to McDonald’s for sophistication, they go for convenience. Part of this convenience is in knowing exactly what to expect. Most people who walk into a McDonald’s restaurant know what they are going to order before they reach the counter.
The other problem with the Arch Deluxe was the fact that it was sold on taste. Everybody knows that McDonald’s is never going to be awarded a Michelin star, yet everybody still comes back. In an article headlined ‘McDonald’s Missing the Mark,’ Dave Miller attacked the ‘compete on taste’ strategy apparent in the promotion of the Arch Deluxe:
“We don’t come to the Golden Arches on the merits of taste and tantalization and culinary delight. We prize your brand on friendliness, cleanliness, consistency and convenience. They are value propositions that you’ve abdicated in recent years and – luckily – competitors have neglected to capture. Exactly how many failed menu concepts does it take before all of those development dollars are instead ploughed into the value proposition?”
However, the problems encountered with the Arch Deluxe are symptomatic of an even bigger problem. As with other brands of such an enormous scale, McDonald’s has been accused of losing touch with its customers and being too far behind the market. Indeed, this is a problem acknowledged by the company’s CEO, Jack Greenberg, who arrived in 1998. ‘We have been taking much too long to develop an idea and get it to the market, then too long to decide whether we want to do it or not,’ he told The Financial Times.
As you would expect with a brand that has built its name through uniformity, McDonald’s is heavily centralized. Most branding and marketing decisions need to go through the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. The recipe for the Arch Deluxe itself came from the Oak Brook kitchen. This contrasts with McDonald’s major product successes such as the Big Mac, the Hot Apple Pie, the Egg McMuffin and the Filet o’ Fish, which were all invented in operators’ kitchens out in the field (whereas other flops such as the McLean burger and McPizza were also conjured up at the Oak Brook headquarters).
Another interesting aspect of the Arch Deluxe failure is that the product was well researched. After conducting masses of market research, it emerged that people would love to eat a burger designed specifically for adults. Unfortunately, these people seemed to be in short supply when the product was finally launched.