Super Size My Sweet Potato Fries: McDonald’s is Unbranding the Big Mac

With sales declining in recent years and millennials turning their backs on the iconic golden arches, it's clear that the fast food giant is feeling a bit obsolete.

May 21, 2015
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Much like a 40-something father in the throws of a mid-life crisis, McDonald’s has been trying (unsuccessfully) to reinvent themselves as young, healthy, and hip. With sales numbers steadily declining in recent years and millenials turning their backs on the iconic golden arches, it’s clear that the fast food giant is feeling a bit obsolete.

In an effort to appeal to a more health-focused, environmentally conscious group of consumers, McDonald’s has tried a few different tactics.

The “Create Your Taste” campaign was introduced in select stores, and appeared to be McDonald’s answer to the DIY craze. So instead of your basic ketchup-mustard-pickle, customers were encouraged to “customize” their burgers by adding exotic ingredients like guacamole, grilled pineapple and jalapenos. They could also choose from a variety of breads, cheeses and sauces.

As you can imagine, this new customizable burger presented a number of problems, most importantly taking the “fast” out of “fast food.” The more complicated orders took considerably longer to prepare and were more expensive to buy, not to mention that these custom sandwiches were not available through the drive-thru, which accounts for over 60 percent of U.S. restaurant sales.

In another cringe-worthy attempt to stay relevant, McDonald’s unveiled their “Artisan Chicken Sandwich,” boasting 100 percent grilled chicken breast filet and pantry seasonings with a zesty vinaigrette. The company’s feeble attempt at gourmet cuisine was met with scorn and ridicule by several media outlets and the fast food equivalent of  “putting lipstick on a pig” did not result in a huge boost in sales.

Maybe the most bizarre and confusing PR play was the return of the Hamburglar. The once pudgy, freckle-faced man-muppet was recently rebranded to be a surprisingly handsome, but ultimately creepy suburban dad with a burger fetish.

“We felt it was time to debut a new look for the Hamburglar after he’s been out of the public eye all these years,” Joel Yashinsky, McDonald’s’ Vice President of U.S. Marketing said in a statement to Mashable. “He’s had some time to grow up a bit and has been busy raising a family in the suburbs and his look has evolved over time.”

There are at least half a dozen more we could name, some of which backfired like their ill-fated attempt at transparency (“Our Food, Your Questions”) and the most recent turnaround plan which made no mention of the actual food whatsoever and instead focused on reorganizing its corporate makeup and giving billions of dollars back to shareholders.

Now, let’s be honest, with 27 million customers a day, McDonald’s isn’t going bankrupt anytime soon. And they’ve actually made some substantial efforts to improve the quality of their food, such as phasing out chicken raised with certain types of antibiotics.

But is a sexy new mascot and some kale chips enough to entice the 20-something hipster generation away from their Chipotle burritos and Panera paninis?

And lest we forget, this is a company that built their fortune on cheap, greasy burgers and super sized fries; folks go to McDonald’s for a happy meal, not a healthy one. It’s also very possible that by trying to reinvent themselves, they may actually alienate a large portion of their loyal customer base.

Then who’s lovin’ it?

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