I know you’re going through a tough time. It’s all over the news, and it must be hard to have your dirty laundry aired on national television. I know I’m mortified when an unflattering photo of me is uploaded to Facebook—and I only have a few hundred “friends.” You serve billions every year.
When I heard the news of your sales dropping and your executive team shipping out, I felt kind of bad. I haven’t been the best friend to you lately. I’ve eaten at Chipotle and I actually really like Shake Shack.
“When I was younger, my dad would always come home with Happy Meal toys—you know, Beanie Babies and Barbies—and I never understood how he got the toys without the meals. Like clockwork, he’d park in our driveway and drop new toys on our laps at least once a week. After years of confusion as a kid, I finally confronted my dad. He told me that on his commute home from work in the city, he befriended a homeless man. Instead of giving the man money, my dad would walk into the McDonald’s, buy four Happy Meals (I’m one of four), and give the food to his new friend. My dad kept the toys for us. Every time I see the Golden Arches, I’m reminded of that story.” —Friend No. 1
“I remember when the first McDonald’s opened in Mexico City—it was 1985, and we would line up for hours in the car to go through the ‘Auto Mac’ just to get their famous Big Macs and Sundaes. Fast-forward five years, and it became the place where a lot of us teenagers hung out. There was this trend: Mexican teen girls found it fun to celebrate their 13th, 14th, or 15th birthdays at McDonald’s with their friends. Some of my best memories involved McDonald’s.” —Friend No. 2
As you can see, it’s not just your food people care about—it’s also the role you played in our lives growing up. Today, teens and parents have unlimited shopping and food options available. We like the experience some new quick-serve chains offer us: in-store self ordering, mobile applications, and servers on roller skates. But with new options comes market saturation. And few of these places evoke stories like the ones above.
I’ve done my research: You’re testing a new build-your-own burger program in California, you debuted a mobile app that’s approaching one million downloads, and you’ve launched a campaign to tell the world that your food is, in fact, food. Congrats—it takes a lot to change.
But, McDonald’s, you’re missing the biggest opportunity of all.
Fortune quoted a former executive best: “McDonald’s food is genuinely good . . . there are no games when you feed 70 million people a day. But McDonald’s needs to tell that story to people who don’t blindly accept it.”
While I understand you have a need to defend the quality of your food, you’re doing it in the wrong way. Your videos lack authentic emotion and believable characters. You’re not creating a brand around quality.
Chipotle burritos are actually worse for people to eat. They have more calories, but they’re perceived as better for us. The company has worked hard to create this perception, and it’s successfully turned it into a global campaign. How many times have your executives played the “Back to the Start” video, McDonald’s? Why aren’t you creating the same experiences and telling more emotional stories?
You’re going through a hard time, I know. I don’t mean to come off as overly harsh, but you have to stop trying to be everything to everyone.
Your menu is too large, and your new products don’t look like you. Since 1990, your menu has grown from 33 items to 121, according to Fortune. And yes, we all still crave Big Macs. I confess, your chicken nuggets are amazing; I eat 10 almost every time I stop by.
But you’re not reminding us that these classic products exist. You’re not inspiring sentiment or nostalgia in us, reminding us of things like our teenage birthday parties with our friends or our dad’s unspoken selflessness. Instead, you’re changing your style every day, introducing new products to look more like your competition or to awkwardly differentiate yourself.
Do you honestly think that will draw in a new audience or a new customer base more than a great story would? We want the old you back, McDonald’s. We want to hear your story—and the stories of people just like us. I’m no financial adviser, but I know the power of a good narrative. The question is: Are you ready to become a better storyteller?
Call me if you want to talk; I’m always here for you.