Op Ed: I’m not singing for my supper

Tony Chapman on why brands shouldn't ask consumers to do uncomfortable things, like sing or kiss strangers.


By Tony Chapman

From Groundhog Day to Valentine’s Day, McDonald’s customers can win a free meal by literally “singing for their supper,” calling their mom and say “I love you” or other super awkward ways to “Pay with Lovin’.” After ordering their meal a customer is randomly selected – that’s right the super extroverted and introverted are in the same spotlight – and asked to complete the task offered up by the service manager (whose title is now…”The Lovin Lead” – I am not making this up), getting their McDonald’s meal for free.

I have to ask…. What were they thinking?

I imagine  they got swept away with the possibility of launching their own Ice Bucket Challenge and the subsequent free earned media from thousands if not millions of viral videos populating an omni-channel universe. Photos and videos of happy and delighted consumers singing and dancing their way through McDonald’s; that in turn would have the entire population of America stampeding through the Golden Arches as they hoped for their 15 megs of fame, and a free Big Mac and Fries. They had to be thinking this big because they bet their Super Bowl buy on the power and potential of this promotion.

To be fair they aren’t the only brand looking for ways to create consumer engagement and social media amplification. Qdoba is giving away two for one burritos if couples or even strangers share a smooch with someone else in stores.  South St. Burger will give you a free fries with your burger if you pucker up on Valentine’s Day and last summer Kraft Dinner launched pop-up fun shops where consumers could juggle boxes of KD, or dance like no one was watching in exchange for KD Funderpants and other swag.

I understand their motivation – in this omni-channel world most brands are starving for attention, engagement and social media validation and amplification and when an idea clicks it clicks, but here are three reasons why I feel McDonald’s “Pay with Lovin’” promotion and like-minded ones are flawed, and with it lessons for other marketers that plan to ask their consumers to perform tricks for rewards.

Number one:  You become a target for detractors

Mass brands’ #hashtags, designed to curate content, are also a magnet for #bashtags and no one should know this more than McDonald’s – whose effort at transparency in the past three years talking about their supply chain “Mythbusters” or asking for their consumer for #McdStories quickly became #McDHorrorStories as the campaigns were hijacked by detractors and social media anarchists. Asking people to sing for their supper is just begging to run afoul online.

Number two:  Very difficult to operationalize

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, might be rolling in his grave over mechanics of this promotion. We must remember that he built his business on four key pillars – quality, value, cleanliness and service – and that platform served him well as he scaled from the first burger to over 100 billion sold before his death. He understood McDonald’s limitations (a chain menu offering versus a local hand-crafted burger), and its strengths (consistency at a great price point).

“Pay with Lovin’” might look great on a well-produced ad but unravels like a kid testing the spring on their Slinky when you roll it out to your minimum wage employees. I can promise you that motivating someone to hand out a Monopoly scratch card and promotional tray board is a much easier ask than having your employee ask a stranger to dance for their sundae in front of other strangers. Or blow a kiss on their hand. Or try and juggle boxes of macaroni.

Number three: Forcing an off-brand experience

In its heyday I could see Club Med guests singing “Hands Up” as they sweated off their third Pina Colada of the morning. I can also see the military or an Ivy League college demand and get superb pageantry from their employees, and even WestJet surprising passengers with wrapped Christmas presents – but McDonald’s? Their consumers go for inexpensive gut fill, not an experience. And most of their employees work to live, not live to work.

I realize it’s easy for me to play armchair quarterback and I know how hard it is to invent, sell through and execute ideas. McDonald’s is trying to be all things to all people, which few if any brands on this planet can succeed with. They must make a strategic decision. One choice is to get back to their roots – be the Walmart of fast food, the place where you can buy consistent food cheap. If so they have to own best in class operators which means simplifying their menu so that they can be faster, better and more efficient. The second choice is to swim upstream to compete in the emerging fast casual category where brands like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Culvers or Panera Bread play. These brands are responding to consumers’ desire for healthier, more adventurous and personalized menus that in turn can command a higher guest check.

They need to pick one or another but whatever path they follow I encourage them not to ask their consumer to sing for their supper so they won’t in turn have to swallow a lot of angry and irate social media.

TonyChapman~2 (1)Tony Chapman is motivational speaker, writer and marketing expert.