Staging A Comeback: What Can McDonald's Learn From Other Brands?

There aren’t many choices for early morning dining in my neighborhood — and I’m talking 4 a.m. early — with the exception of a 24-hour McDonald’s. Desperately wanting a coffee and breakfast in preparation for a long day ahead recently, I decided the only choice was the best one — McDonald’s.

I haven’t pulled into a McDonald’s for quite some time, but I do have vivid memories of past visits. Long ago my wife and I would take our way-too-active 5-year-old son to McDonald’s just so he could run wild in the McDonald’s PlayPlace. Road trips? A stop at McDonald’s was always a must. And when I was younger, nothing tasted better than those hot, crispy, salt-flecked fries after the bars closed. Come to think of it, McDonald’s has been a significant part of my life throughout high school, college, raising a family. Today, I own stock in the company. 

Walking into McDonald’s made me feel nostalgic, as I was returning to a familiar place with fond memories. But the warm feeling faded as I stared at the menu board. On it, there was a cluttered and confusing array of more than 24 breakfast choices, including a Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddles — not sure what that is — Southern-Style Chicken Biscuits, a bagel offering, a burrito and even a fruit and yogurt parfait. Clearly, McDonald’s was trying to offer something for almost everyone. Except me. When I learned they still offer an Egg McMuffin and ordered it, I was disappointed that it arrived cold and soggy. At least its coffee is better than it used to be! 



It’s no secret that McDonald’s(MCD) has been struggling to keep up with competitors like Wendy’s (WEN) and Burger King. But on that day I understood why, most likely, McDonald’s reported a 4% drop in domestic same-store sales for February, far worse result than analysts expected. And it’s telling, too, that the percentage of people, aged 19 to 21, who visit McDonald’s monthly has tumbled 12.9 percentage points since early 2011, reports Technomic.

What can McDonald’s and new CEO Steve Easterbrook do to reinvigorate this great brand? Improved quality and consistency will help. A pared-down menu will expedite service. Thinking about it, it strikes me that Easterbrook and team might take a few lessons from some tired CPG brands that have staged a comeback. Like them, McDonald’s is a ubiquitous, well-priced, mass offering. 

Old Spice grooming products were hugely popular in the 1970s — many dads wore it that decade — until it went out of style. In 1990, when the company was sold to Proctor & Gamble, the brand got an overhaul. New products, like Old Spice High Endurance, and ads targeted young men. In 2010, its “Smell Like a Man, Man” spots for its body wash were a huge hit with men and women alike. They helped usher in a comeback for this brand. The takeaway for McDonald’s: Find the people who want your product — Families? Road trippers? Cash-strapped young adults? — embrace them and be relevant to them.

In appealing to young consumers, McDonald’s should give them an opportunity to rediscover the brand through a simpler menu, items aimed at this demographic, and a relevant message that targets this market and appears in the channels they frequent. 

Other CPG brands that may have comeback tales that are relevant for McDonald’s? Kraft reinvigorated Planters Peanuts in part by giving Mr. Peanut a makeover and a new personality. A few years back, the character started appearing in ads with a sidekick named Benson and talking in Robert Downey Jr.’s voice.

In the 1960s, it was estimated that about half of all U.S. households owned a Polaroid camera. It was so embedded in popular culture that Andy Warhol carried one with him in the early 1970s. Then digital took over and Polaroid filed for bankruptcy. Today, Polaroid is back and enjoying retro-cool status

How did Polaroid do it? By leveraging its highly recognizable brand name through strategic license agreements with companies and products that aligned with Polaroids core values and heritage — its brand DNA. Today Polaroid is known for its sunglasses, tablets, televisions and an array of instant cameras and the Cube action camera. 

McDonald’s might benefit by taking a hard look at its brand attributes, its heritage and its most valuable consumer. It wouldn’t hurt to study some comeback stories in the CPG world as well.

1 comment about "Staging A Comeback: What Can McDonald's Learn From Other Brands?".
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  1. Cliff Medney from Flightpath, April 13, 2015 at 3:37 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more that there is great learning and perspective from recent "comeback" brands in several adjacent/CPG categories. But given their recent situation at SXSW- where they got entangled in an "exposure for play" (like "pay2play" only dumber) peeing match with a young and hungry- very hungry- band, maybe the Golden A's needs to simply get real/realer with America's issues on health, personal finances, etc.

    We love you McD's, just not everyday...especially when the team behind the counter is frowning in their tears:)  Good Luck!  

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