Fast Food Critics Can't Keep Up
Things sure do move fast in the junk food … er, Quick Service and Fast Casual restaurant biz. Adweek’s video columnist, Lauren Reeves, who launched her new “Mad Woman” series last month with an exposé of lingerie PSAs, can hardly keep up with the developments, in fact. Just as this week’s episode surveys “the superinformative ads all the fast food companies are making” about their “many super healthy menu options,” there’s news breaking left and right.
As satisfried as Reeves may pretend to be with Burger King’s “30% less fat and 20% fewer calories” version of the classic fast food item, there are “many millions” of folks who have yet to sample them, and the company “figures the best way to get consumers hooked” is to give them away this weekend, Bruce Horovitz reports in USA Today. The company expects to give away more than 10 million orders of the value-size Satisfries, which normally cost $1.29.
“BK keeps reaching up its sleeve to get consumers engaged with its new fries,” Horovitz reports. “Last week, it issued a mock press release claiming it had changed its named from Burger King to Fries King. It also changed the signage at a few stores to reflect that.” And, citing “buzz scores” and the like, Horovitz says “its PR efforts appears to be working.”
McDonald’s, meanwhile, “might become the country's largest children's book publisher for the month of November,” Maureen Morrison reports in Ad Age. “The chain, which typically offers toys in its kids meals, will package four original children's books carrying a nutritional message Nov. 1 through Nov. 14 with its Happy Meals, the beginning of a massive children's book push expected to last for several years.”
The books, which were created by Leo Burnett, will not be available for sale elsewhere. The company expects to give away about 20 million volumes during the promotional period, which starts on National Literacy Day. It’s also partnering with Reading is Fundamental to give away 100,000 books.
The books “will be based on company characters — but not the Hamburglar or Ronald McDonald” Morrison reports. “One book, The Goat Who Ate Everything, is about a goat who has a big appetite and struggles to eat well but eventually learns to eat smart,” she writes.
“For McDonald's, it's yet another effort to appease critics who have lambasted its Happy Meals for the food quality, the licensed toys and the kid-targeted marketing,” Horovitz observes in his coverage of the initiative.
Those critics have hardly been assuaged, no less appeased.
On Huffington Post, attorney Michele Simon takes McDonald’s to task for what the headline claims are “Super-Sized Lies” made in its well-publicized announcement a few weeks ago that it would be promoting healthier children’s menus with the Clinton Foundation spinoff Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
Simon calls the initiatives “hollow” and yet-another “public relations” stunt, among other things, after bullet-pointing examples of what she calls “a long history of deceiving the public with empty promises.”
Meanwhile, in a blog titled “Why Won’t McDonald’s Really Lead?,” New York Times Opinionator Mark Bittman starts off by telling us, “Every McDonald’s executive I’ve met who happens to be a parent says something like this: ‘I don’t let my kids eat at McDonald’s all the time. It’s a treat; we know that.’”
After excoriating McDonald’s for being more adept at spinning healthy-for-kids stories rather than really pushing healthy food choices, Bittman concludes: “If McDonald’s wanted to be on the right side of history, it would announce something like this: ‘Starting tomorrow, we’re not offering soda with Happy Meals except by specific request. And starting Jan. 1, at every McDonald’s, we’ll be offering a small burger with a big salad for the price of a burger and fries to anyone who asks for it; we’re also adding a chopped salad McWrap. We challenge our competitors to follow us in making fast food as healthful as it is affordable, and we dare our critics to say we’re not changing.’”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal’s Dana Mattioli writes that “Barington Capital Group LP, along with other investors, has taken a 2.8% stake in Darden, the owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster and six other restaurant chains” and “is pushing for Darden to form two separate companies, among other changes.”
Darden, which is based on Orlando, has more than 2,100 restaurants in North America. Other chains include the LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House, Eddie V's Prime Seafood, Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze brands.