McDonald's Courts Football Fans With Mighty Wings Launch

Limited-Time Offer Will Be One Of Chain's Biggest Introductions This Year

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Just a few months after KFC launched boneless chicken, McDonald's is launching Mighty Wings, a bone-in product that will be one of the chain's biggest launches this year -- and it's betting the product will fly with football fans.

McDonald's is using its status as the official partner of the National Football League to help market Mighty Wings. "Given the natural tie between wings and football, the NFL is the perfect partner to help promote our new Mighty Wings," said a McDonald's spokeswoman, but declined to give further detail. McDonald's late last year signed on as the official restaurant of the NFL, a multi-year partnership that allows the chain to use the 32 team logos and the NFL shield in its marketing.

Mighty Wings will begin rolling out Sept. 9, with a completion date planned for Sept. 24. The limited-time Mighty Wings will be available through November, and will be served with a choice of nine sauces including honey mustard and spicy buffalo. The wings will be sold in packs of three, five or 10 wings starting at $2.99.

Hong Kong inspired
National digital marketing will be handled by Omnicom's DDB, though the agency referred additional questions to McDonald's. National creative is being handled by Burrell Communications, a multicultural agency under the Publicis Groupe banner, according to executives familiar with the business. Burrell did not respond to requests for comment. McDonald's declined to comment on agencies for Mighty Wings.

"Mighty Wings were popular among all of our customers in the test markets and we anticipate that this new menu item will be well received across all multicultural audiences," said the McDonald's spokeswoman.

It may seem like a leap for McDonald's to launch chicken wings, but the spokeswoman said the new line was "inspired by wings that were served in McDonald's Hong Kong restaurants and were very popular among customers."

The chain would not detail the size of the Mighty Wings campaign, but the chain spent more than $63 million on U.S. measured media in the second quarter alone for its most recent big launch, McWrap. Since McDonald's spent a total of $280 million in measured media in the quarter, McWrap accounted for about 22% of the measured total.

In all, McDonald's spent $957 million on U.S. measured media last year.

Clipped wings?
Chicken wings has been a popular menu item in recent years, but that appears to be waning. From 2009 to 2011, the number of wing offerings increased nearly 6%, according to Technomic. But since 2011, wings offerings have dropped 16%. More than 59% of wing menu offerings are at casual-dining chains such as Buffalo Wild Wings, and 24% are at fast food chains, Techomic said.

Lynne Collier, an analyst with Sterne Agee, said in a recent note that "we view the introduction of [McDonald's] Mighty Wings as a meaningful catalyst" for sales. "Based on our channel checks, we believe that Mighty Wings performed very well in test and drove the average check." The product was tested in Chicago in January and also in Atlanta.

Not every analyst was as optimistic. Howard Penney, managing director of Hedgeye, said in a note Tuesday that "selling chicken wings may temporarily boost sales during the [limited-time offer], but it could end up doing more harm than good. Asking the currently disgruntled franchisee community to prepare yet another new product, with a slower than normal preparation time, will only add to the service issues the company is already experiencing. In our view, this is likely to lead to the further deterioration of the [McDonald's] brand."

The disgruntled franchisee community Mr. Penney referred to is that of a cohort of franchisees who have growing misgivings regarding McDonald's desire to continually promote the dollar menu, a move the company made late last year and has continued with through this year.

Busy year
After a relatively quiet new-product strategy in 2012, McDonald's has had a busy year in that department in 2013. In April, it launched its biggest product of the year, the McWrap, in the hopes of appealing to millennials and health-conscious consumers. It also introduced its Egg White Delight, also looking to appeal to the health-minded, and Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie.

McDonald's in the second quarter posted a 1% same-store sales increase in the U.S., results that beat the company's own expectations. The company credited the McWraps, Blueberry Pomegranate smoothie and Egg White Delight with boosting sales in the U.S. McDonald's sought to further boost sales with those products by featuring them in its Monopoly promotion, which it held in July -- an unusual move, since the Monopoly promotion usually runs in the fall.

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