“Why, McDonald’s, why?”
That line was part of Stephen Colbert’s fist-shaking opener during a recent “Late Night” show. The host’s lament referred to the news that after testing it for six months in San Diego, McDonald’s had officially started serving ALL DAY BREAKFAST in all its restaurants throughout America.
In his unhappiness, Colbert seemed to be a party of one, while the announcement had practically cracked the Internet, which is unusual for anything corporate. On social media, the news was greeted with the passion and reverence usually reserved for a sighting of the Pope or Jon Stewart.
By now, it’s well known that the cutoff time for the McD’s b-fast foodstuffs was a strict 10:30. Apparently, over the years thousands of starved McMuffiners, pilgrims who had reached the Golden Arches by 10:32 or 10:35, only to be turned away, had emailed or tweeted at the mother church, begging to cut out the cut-off.
But Colbert protested the move as chaos-inducing. “What’s next?” he asked. “We used to have rules!”
He also said, “Face it: breakfast for dinner means Mom is very tired or very sad.”
That last zinger did hit home — for people who grew up in those golden times when families actually sat down for dinner together every night. (And only Mom, never Dad or one of the kids, was the cook.)
But that’s exactly it. Now family food is generally more of a daily smorgasbord of microwave reheatings and various grub-grabbing.
So I disagree with Stephen here. Seems to me the move is a no-brainer. (Insert visual here showing two perfectly fried eggs in a pan, as the voiceover announces, “This is your brain on McDonald’s.”) It plays to a lot of the company’s strengths.
For starters, extending breakfast is a natural way to grow a share that the otherwise-beleaguered fast-food giant already owns. So, unlike adding a pumpkin-spice-latte-McRib salsa wrap to the menu, this was a genuinely organic, consumer-demanded revolution.
The easy tenor of the announcement ads also demonstrate what a natural, no manipulation-needed move it was. In contrast to the trumped-up pretend atmosphere of many commercials, these showed actors doing deadpan, low-energy readings of the actual, obsessive, besotted McD breakfast clubbers’ tweets and FB postings. The spots are delightful because they are so honest and counterintuitive—the actual Ed-Grimley-level-excitement of the Tweeters had to be tamped down!
The menu extension is also a way to counter some of the backlash surrounding McD’s food. Obviously, breakfast food may not be great for cholesterol, and then there’s the outrageous amount of salt in most of the muffin/biscuit offerings — but it still would seem healthier, lower-calorie, more customizable and hand-made than the fast-food giant’s chicken, beef, and pork –based products. McD’s also offers oatmeal, and yogurt and fruit for breakfast.
And given the whole egg imagery thing, it’s a marketing initiative with the suggestion of freshness and newness built right into its semiotic core. Except for peeps with allergies, we generally have a positive, child-like association with eggs: they mean birth, nurture, and new beginnings. They are something natural that can’t be tampered with or chemicalized. Nothing is more self-contained than an egg.
Not only does all-day-breakfast-eating fit into the Uber/Airbnb “share” economy zeitgeist, it also picks up on the idea of the increasing infantilization of American culture. Can we get any more relaxed than people who actually walk around in their pajamas? We have become a nation of grown-up toddlers, carrying plastic water bottles with nipples, wearing shoes with thick treads, going to offices with built-in playgrounds. (And working heinous hours, which would underscore the demand for all-day breakfast.)
Of course, no move comes without some criticism. McD’s owner-operators had to buy new equipment: extra grills and toasters. And due to the limited kitchen and grill space during lunch and dinner times, the menu had to be limited, and it turns out that company can do Egg McMuffins or biscuits, not both. So those in about five Southern states will be missing the muffins. There was a huge alarm that the hash browns were deep-sixed as well, but that turned out to be false.
Who knew that in these post- “Super Size Me” days, with so much competition, that the Golden Arches’ offerings were so beloved? Time-shifting breakfast has been a free media tsunami.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back into my closet and find my Snuggie. Happy face emoji, sun symbol.