McDonald's Hoisted On Its Own Hashtag

McDonald’s posted its eighth straight year of positive sales around the globe and, while it is concerned about rising prices and the impact on franchisees, it expects the trend to continue, Maureen Morrison reports in Ad Age. It plans to open 1,300 outlets, including 250 in China, and to renovate about 2,400 restaurants in the coming year. It’s also presumably rethinking its social media strategy following what the Financial Times describes as a “hijacking” of a Twitter campaign last week.

“McDonald’s bought two ‘promoted tweets’ using Twitter’s nascent advertising system, which it hoped would encourage happy customers to share their ‘McDStories’ on the quick-fire messaging site,” write Tim Bradshaw and Alan Rappeport. “But the clickable ‘hashtag’ which McDonald’s used to aggregate these tweets was quickly hijacked by less-than-satisfied diners, who used Twitter to vent about food-poisoning incidents and allegations of low standards of employee and animal welfare at the restaurant group.”

To be fair, when you serve 68 million customers a day, you’re going to have a portion that is disgruntled. In fact, the law of averages dictate that it’s going to be a sizeable portion, compared to, oh, what the Moosewood Restaurant might drum up over a lifetime. The question is whether you hand them the microphone that is social media.

“Some marketing whizzkid proclaimed: 'When u make something w/pride, people can taste it,' - McD potato supplier #McDStories,” Hannah Roberts opines in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “But within minutes the tweets began to go radically off message, as the hash-tag took on a life of its own. Detractors seized on #McDStories as an opportunity to document their alleged horror stories at the Golden Arches.”

Some sites, such as the Daily Mail, seem to delight in repeating the nasty Tweets. We’ll spare you the details this early in the morning but warn you that you’ll encounter words such as feces, vomit and diarrhea.

“Somewhere in corporate Hamburgerland, an ad executive with a penchant for ‘social media’ and ‘the Twitter’ thought a McDonalds-themed hashtag would sell more food. Oh boy was he wrong. Mickey D's Twitter push is backfiring harder than E. coli vomit,” writes Sam Biddle on Gizmodo. “The facile burger peddlers hoped to create a ‘viral,’ ‘organic’ marketing campaign, presumably comprised of customers sharing their fond fast food memories. Something like ‘I miss eating nuggets with grandma. #RIPgrams #mcdstories.’”

Ouch. That’s not some lame-o ad executive sitting in a Starbucks somewhere dreaming up The Twitters. That’s somebody’s grandson with extensive online experience -- and he took the bullet, sort of.

The 24-hour campaign was going along smoothly last Wednesday until about 2 p.m., when it “switched from its first hash-tag #MeetTheFarmers to its second one #McDStories,” reports PaidContent’s Jeff Roberts. “Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned,” Rick Wion, McDonald’s social media director, tells him. “It was negative enough that we set about a change of course.”

Roberts says that Wion seemed to be telling him “that a certain amount of social media blowback is unavoidable if a company is a lightning rod in the first place.” But, writes Roberts, “the episode also shows that, in the case of Twitter, a hashtag released into the wild can’t be re- captured.”

Meanwhile, the chain “is reaching critical mass on a nearly decade-long, multibillion-dollar global renovation and rebuilding project it is betting will boost sales, traffic and brand perception,” Emily Bryson York reports in the Chicago Tribune this morning.

Cultural tastes dictate different exterior designs by area of the world, according to Denis Weil, McDonald's VP of concept and design. “But needs inside the restaurants are more common,” Bryson York writes. “On the inside, major metropolitan areas like London, New York and Shanghai share a similar look, distinct from suburban or rural areas, he said.”

And while it’s adding healthy-sounding products such as blueberry-banana-nut oatmeal to the menu and will roll out extensions such as a blended-ice Cherry Berry Chiller and Chicken McBites, a popcorn-chicken product that’s available through April 20, the staples that made it Mickey D’s in the first place remain strong, CEO Jim Skinner indicated during a conference call reported on by Ad Age’s Morrison.

"We will also continue to feature our flagship core items, Big Mac, hamburger, cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets and our world-famous french fries, all of which account for roughly 30% of our sales," he says.

"As we begin 2012, we are intensifying our efforts toward the global priorities that represent our greatest opportunities under the 'Plan to Win' -- optimizing and evolving our menu, modernizing the customer experience and broadening accessibility to our brand," Skinner adds in a statement.

Even, apparently, if that means that sometimes it’s a bit too accessible.

Tags: qsr, restaurants
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1 comment about "McDonald's Hoisted On Its Own Hashtag".
  1. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship , January 25, 2012 at 4:19 p.m.
    I say first... embrace wherever it goes, make it your own, and show how you can listen and participate. Second... be prepared with an army of authentic supporters of your own who can always be ready to jump in and keep the momentum and hashtag usage on target, or at the very least have a fair amount of the expected content. Hashtag hijacking is not uncommon and something major brands need to keep in mind.