McD's new kitchen may burn ad effort

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After only four months of full implementation, some major flaws are showing in McDonald's Corp.'s "Made for You" system, an innovation central to its brand relaunch touting service with a smile. That theme will run through most of McDonald's $500 million-plus ad effort this year.

Long waits are fraying customers' tempers as a result of the "Made for You" system, which costs franchisees upwards of $40,000 per unit to install. A recent qualitative survey by restaurant consultancy Technomic found McMakeover has yet to resonate with consumers.

"Consumers say service is slower than it used to be," said Bob Goldin, Technomic exec VP. "There was no mention of better food or the new system."

LOW SATISFACTION SCORE

Moreover, the University of Michigan's February American Customer Satisfaction Index study showed McDonald's has consistently posted the survey's lowest customer satisfaction ratings since the school began the measurement in 1994. The industry average is 69 while McDonald's rating is 61.

McDonald's has denied the slow service problem, positioning the new kitchens as a huge success.

"Total times in line have been on a steady monthly decline," said Bob Marshall, director of operations development. He also cited a survey among restaurant managers in which 97% said they wouldn't want to go back to the old kitchen system.

"It's not `Made for You' that is the problem," said Irwin S. Kruger, a franchisee who runs six high-volume units in Manhattan. He pointed to poor management at restaurants as the stumbling block.

Franchise consultant Dick Adams maintained McDonald's is unwilling to admit it oversold the system to franchisees.

" `Made for You' is the cornerstone of [McDonald's CEO Jack] Greenberg's corporate revolution," he said. "Overall, the goal is unrealistic to do the high volumes, maintain fast service and make sandwiches to order."

In fact, some operators and analysts have conceded that McDonald's may have to develop a hybrid system to better handle peak meal times. "They might have to have some sandwiches pre-made and others custom-made," said one analyst.

"Most consumers are fairly indifferent or don't know the system has been put into place," said another.

Spreading the word will be the job of the fast-feeder's new campaign, starting June 30 and themed "We love to make you smile." The advertising from DDB Worldwide, Chicago, replaces "Did somebody say McDonald's?" and is the centerpiece of a massive marketing effort focusing on service. One of the executions features workers on a building site who, in good fun, send up a Happy Meal to a burly construction worker.

QSC EMPHASIS

McDonald's "has been based on QSC -- quality, service and cleanliness. They want to own S," explained Don Hoffman, senior VP-group account director at DDB.

But unmet promises can hobble the effect of the most inspired ads.

"You can't cover up for [operational] deficiencies with marketing," said Alan Fortini-Campbell, adjunct professor of integrated marketing at Northwestern University and a principal at the Fortini-Campbell Co., a qualitative marketing research company. "If a brand's body language can't live up to its verbal claims, people will notice the difference and the campaign fails."

The original "Did somebody say?" campaign helped DDB win back the McDonald's account in 1997 after a 15-year absence.

The long break between the "Did somebody say?" and "We love to make you smile" campaigns is because the new cooking system was supposed to drive marketing but it stalled, according to system insiders.

APPARENT TURNABOUT

In fact, a September 1998 company memo distributed before the new kitchen's unveiling waxed poetic about how new creative was in development to merchandise "Made for You." But in an apparent turnabout, Mr. Greenberg told Reuters in February the company wouldn't promote the system since "I don't think our customers particularly care about how we cook our hamburgers."

He could be right. Barbara Everitt Bryant, managing director of the University of Michigan's satisfaction index, said McDonald's low score may not matter after all.

"I'm not sure the numbers have much of an effect on McDonald's business," she said, "because most Americans go [there] because it's the closest and most convenient."

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