Disclaimer: I am now an intern at M&M Global, a media and marketing trade journal, but this piece does NOT represent the views of the magazine. Also, see that word intern: That means I’m a rung on the ladder below junior. Views to be taken with a pinch of salt.
A Twitter campaign run by McDonald’s got a little out of hand a few days ago. The fast food chain promoted two tweets with two hashtags encouraging tweeters to 1) learn about the McDonald’s supply chain with #meetthefarmers and 2) share their stories about their McDonald’s experiences with #McDStories.
The meet the farmers hashtag was doomed to mediocrity from conception. It’s a nice idea and apparently did quite well, but isn’t going to engage mass audiences. Besides, as soon as you give most people the word ‘farmer’, they instantly translate it into a West Country accent. When I used to tell people I went to Farmor’s School, you could see them doing it in their heads.
The second hashtag however was just plain doomed from conception. If you’ve spent any amount of time in the real world, or indeed on Twitter, you don’t need any marketing training or experience to know where the #McDStories was going to go. Instead of the warm and fuzzy “I’m Lovin’ It” tweets they were apparently expecting, the hashtag very quickly filled up with horror stories and general bile directed towards the golden arches. The promoted tweet was pulled after a couple of hours when they saw how their social marketing audience had turned.
This incident was reported just about everywhere and heralded as one of the first social media marketing gaffs of the year. I can’t help feeling however that there’s something more to it.
I think McDonald’s got a lot of mileage out of that one promoted tweet.
Promotion, brand awareness and marketing in general is a lot more insidious than getting people to say they think you’ve got a good product, or to express their adoration for your company. For proof of this, see all the companies out there that get a Facebook page, get as many people to ‘Like’ it as they can and then have no way of following it up afterwards. There’s more nuance to it than that. It’s not enough for someone to like you, they have to buy you.
Two days ago, the press jumped on the McDonald’s Twitter campaign to lambaste it as a ‘McFail’, a disaster, a cataclysmic gaff or an example of the dangers of marketing in social media. To cut a long list of publications short, it got the sort of coverage a PR would kill for.
There is the old adage of all publicity is good publicity, but that just isn’t true – publicity in the age of social and viral media can murder a reputation overnight – but this isn’t exactly a reputation being destroyed. The chain hasn’t just tipped its hand to expose a seething underbelly of contempt directed towards them: The fact that people don’t like McDonald’s is not news and it won’t be news to those in charge of their marketing department either.
McDonald’s is another one of those things like Justin Bieber that seems to be universally despised yet hugely successful at the same time. Almost everyone says they hate McDonald’s, yet almost everyone will eat there occasionally. Some of the tweets from the other day said things along the lines of “every time I eat there I feel sick or worse” to which the sane response is “perhaps you should stop eating there”.
What the Twitter campaign did was put the thought of McDonald’s in everyone’s heads at once, possibly making them reflect on burgers they have eaten, and even if they were in many cases negative experiences, that’s better than a million television adverts, billboards or marketers standing on street corners with megaphones shouting “EAT AT MCDONALD’S” all day, because it got people thinking the chain all by themselves. I would put money on the fact that I wasn’t the only person inexplicably wanting a Big Mac yesterday.
Much as we’d like to believe it, those responsible for the McDonald’s marketing campaigns are not idiots. It’s a pretty big company and they can afford people that know what they’re doing. It really isn’t a secret that their slogan “I’m Lovin’ It” isn’t exactly universal sentiment towards the chain. I suppose “I’m Eatin’ It” might be more appropriate.
They don’t want to make you like them, they want you to eat at their restaurants. They want you to think of them the next time you’re hungry. They want you to remember that one time that you actually got the Happy Meal Toy you were after when you were a child, even if it did break after three seconds. They want you to think of the overly processed yet oddly comforting taste. They’re almost encouraging you to think of it as a guilty pleasure: The sort of thing you’ll never admit to your closest friends, but when no-one is watching you will hungrily long for and consume.
I think the press have been played on this one (and I fully admit that I’m a part of that - I wrote a news item about it too) and used for free advertising. For all the statements of “It didn’t got to plan” from McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion, I think there’s something that he’s not saying. I can’t help suspecting that #McDStories exceeded expectations.