To Maintain its Reputation, McDonald’s Pays the Ultimate Price: Some Cheeseburgers

January 11 , 2016 by in Stories
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Viking and cheeseburger

In an act of what ESPN calls “fast food retribution,” McDonald’s has awarded Minnesota Vikings coach, Mike Zimmer with 100 cheeseburgers, complete with 100 slices of processed cheese and 100 yellow wrappers. There are presumably 200 pickles, 200 pieces of bread, and thousands of flavor-crystal “onions” somewhere in that mixture, as well.

I can’t estimate the total volume of ketchup and mustard, because I’m not a scientist, so don’t even ask.

Although I might not call it “fast food retribution” (I’d actually call that 14 days of nothing but kale and quinoa… and hating yourself), it was a great example of high-profile reputation management.

After a series of rough days, including losing to the Seahawks 38-7, Coach Zimmer drove home and stopped by McDonald’s on the way.

“I went to McDonald’s on the way home because I was hungry and ordered two cheeseburgers and I only got one. That’s the kind of week it’s been,” Zimmer said.

What a crappy week, dude. I feel you. Always check the bag before you leave the drive thru. Or, at least mention it on a national stage so McDonald’s knows they should feel very bad about themselves. Very bad, indeed.

Though Coach Zimmer thought he got one less cheeseburger because someone at the restaurant was mad at him for losing to the Seahawks, it might have just been normal McDonald’s human error. If he can lose a football game, they can forget a cheeseburger. We’re only human, after all.

Nevertheless, this is how McDonald’s responded:

You’re Never Too Big to Fail

McDonald’s made good on Coach Zimmer’s lost cheeseburger, and added another 99 for good measure. When Zimmer took his grievances onto a national stage, McDonald’s had to respond.

Fortunately, their response was great. Their tweet was masterful, and 100 cheeseburgers seems like a reasonable amount to send to a pack of hungry, angry Norse warriors that just lost an important battle to a flock of predatory coastal birds. McDonald’s made good and then some.

Which is something they have to do.

For the past year (or more), McDonald’s has been in full-on “damage control” mode. Its global sales dropped five quarters in a row.

sad lady and the rain

Pictured: McDonald’s Shareholders, people who have to write articles about football coaches and cheeseburgers

This piece on Deseret News interviews Chris Muller, a scholar in the field of chain restaurant management at Boston University.

From the article:

The brand has a reputation for unhealthy, processed and sugary foods that it can’t quite shake, especially among snake people, no matter how much they improve the quality of their products. McDonald’s new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, who took over the job in March, is hoping to eventually change that perception, but first he is focusing on restructuring the entire company from executives to cashiers.

Talk of McDonald’s declining reputation has appeared in many places this year. Food Business News. Bloomberg Business. Reputation Institute. The Guardian. An entire category on the Huffington Post. McDonald’s is trying to become faster, become more streamlined. They’re offering breakfast at all times. They’re putting in effort.

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The Deseret News article goes so far to say that my generation, snake people (snake people, if you’re in the know), were raised to not eat McDonald’s. And now we have more buying power.

There’s anecdotal evidence of McDonald’s reputation decline, too, of course.

Though I wasn’t raised that way, the sentiment among my peers is pretty universal. Most of them say they refuse to eat McDonald’s (even when I know they sometimes do), and they’re grossed out by anyone who would ever even consider buying a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

An exception to this: my musician friends. Oftentimes, McDonald’s is our best choice to get food before or after a gig, or when we start off on the road to play a show in another city.

Most of my friends at least claim they eat more healthy, and that McDonald’s is disgusting. You probably know plenty of people who claim they’d never touch a Big Mac meal with a Coke.

McDonald’s is fighting for its reputation every chance it gets. Observe this video:

McDonald’s is taking greater steps towards transparency with a question and answer section on its website. It hired a Mythbusters cast member to host video segments about how its food is actually made (no explosions, berets, or walrus mustaches– sorry).

In short, McDonald’s is experiencing declining sales. Its reputation is in jeopardy. It is not too big to fail, and it needs to prove that it still provides the best dollar cheeseburger in the world. It needs to retain its return customers and brand evangelists.

The Value of 100 Cheeseburgers

But why bother? Despite its reportedly declining reputation and sales, people still eat at McDonald’s. I can count five people (myself included) in this very office who will probably eat there once this week. Can’t they afford to lose one football coach?

Not really. Coach Zimmer is what we peasants call a High-Profile Human. He coaches a team with a cool logo and mascot in, what I’m told, is a very popular American sport. He is almost a mythical figure. And, yet, he still orders two cheeseburgers like the rest of us.

Minnesota Vikings Flag

Pictured: A 100% accurate portrayal of a historical viking warrior

Until you accidentally cheat him out of a cheeseburger and he talks about it on television.

On a good day, many of us have $100, which we could spend on 100 cheeseburgers if we so chose. I understand McDonald’s has at least $100. Giving 100 cheeseburgers to the Minnesota Vikings is worth much more than $100.

Coach Zimmer is a real life celebrity who eats at McDonald’s. Many of the people in his life, and in orbit around his life, likely eats at McDonald’s, too. If he denounces them, they suffer a backlash in the public eye– regardless of how it translates in actual sales. With a suffering reputation, McDonald’s needs all the allies they can get.

This was a simple fix. A hundred cheeseburgers and a well-crafted tweet. It shows McDonald’s is paying attention to what people are saying about them. It shows they care about their customers, even if Coach Zimmer himself thinks losing out on a cheeseburger was some sort of karmic reward for losing a football game.

Coach Zimmer’s local McDonald’s is invested in him and in the Minnesota Vikings. Real people work at McDonald’s and run their social media accounts.

Instead of ignoring the problem, McDonald’s invested in retaining a customer and possible brand evangelist. And fed some hungry football guys.

Let’s just hope they counted correctly this time, or one guy in the locker room is going to talk about his missing cheeseburger on national television. The snake eats its tail. The cycle repeats.

Magic symbol of Ouroboros. Tattoo with snake biting its own tail

Sometimes making up for your mistakes and showing that you’re a real, fallible human being is the best way to manage your reputation– even if it costs you the steep price of 100 cheeseburgers.

Question: How many McDonald’s cheeseburgers can Adrian Peterson eat? Tell me your theories in the comments. I’m personally betting on four.

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About Dustin Verburg

Dustin Verburg is a writer, journalist, and musician who writes for several web and print publications. During most of his waking hours, he produces content for ReviewJump. Dustin lives with his guitars, comic books, and collectable Star Trek plates in Boise, ID.

2 responses to “To Maintain its Reputation, McDonald’s Pays the Ultimate Price: Some Cheeseburgers”

  1. What an excellent, fun, and informative post!

    I feel that with the rapid technological advances of our society (for better or more probably– for worse), customers have also come to EXPECT their issues to be resolved instantly, or at least, get an immediate response that the issue is ‘being taken care of’.

    And if the company does not fulfill these expectations, then they are almost begging for instant rebuke and public humiliation either via an online review, social media, or…… National TV!

    This was well-played by Mickey D’s, showing the public that not only can they make the quickest burger in the world, but they can just as quickly respond and smooth over customer dissatisfaction.

    If you’re a big or small company that wants to succeed, you need to recognize how high the bar has been set!

    • David,

      I really appreciate the comment. Thanks for stopping by.

      We do expect (me included) quick responses on social media, but many brands don’t respond at all. See: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/257770/many-brands-fail-to-respond-to-consumers-on-social.html

      It’s kinda crazy. That being said, not everyone has a full social media staff like McDonald’s, but your average local burger joint or greasy spoon isn’t as high profile. So they can get away with going a little slow, even if it upsets my fellow snake people.

      We recently completed a survey on social media response times and we will publish it soon.

      The bar IS high, but we need to have realistic expectations, too, especially with smaller businesses. It’s something my generation, as a whole, needs to work on.

      We do deserve responses and good customer service, but they won’t always come as fast as a drive-thru cheeseburger.

      McDonald’s can’t get away with dillydallying, though. So kudos to them on this.

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