McDonald’s currently has more than 14,200 US locations and boasts of serving approximately 70 million customers daily worldwide. It has proudly advertised the popular $1 Menu that has been exclusively featuring items costing only a buck since 2002, but recently the newly named Dollar Menu & More saw the addition of a $2 Jalapeño Burger and $5 20-piece Chicken Nugget deal.1 Overall, prices at the chain have increased 3% since June 2013 due to the rising cost of meat (and an incident with the company’s meat supplier in China) as well as minimum wage increases. In recent years McDonald’s has made several attempts to increase sales by offering discounts, dangling limited-time offers, and remodeling its stores. So, why all the effort to revitalize the world’s largest fast-food burger chain?
McDonald’s is currently experiencing its worst sales slump in a decade: Bloomberg recently reported that same-store sales for US-based McDonald’s locations dropped for the fourth straight month in August.2 The U-T San Diego newspaper reports that the chain’s favor with young adults is also in decline, stating that the percentage of 19- to 21-year-old consumers for the chain has decreased a dramatic 12.9% since 2011.3 There are a number of factors at play in the dropping popularity, aside from rising prices. For example, there has been an increased number of people who fancy themselves “foodies,” and they tend to have more sophisticated palettes. In today’s world, the foodservice industry has to adapt to meet a seemingly endless number of dietary demands, and people have come to expect customization wherever they dine. The gluten-free, vegan, low-carb, high-kale, organic, guacamole-loving foodie crowd may not seem like McDonald’s target audience, but with the new build-your-own burger test stores, McDonald’s is clearly hoping to attract more young adults—including those with refined palettes.
There are currently four McDonald’s locations (two in Orange County and two in San Diego) participating in the build-your-own-burger trial. This test run has promise to evolve into the basis for another persuasive advertising campaign from McDonald’s. The move is about more than simply spicing up the ingredients on your burger; there is also a focus on personalizing the whole dining experience, something that goes over huge in ads. Workers greet you as you enter the building, handing you an iPad tablet that displays the build-your-own-burger options: toasted artisan or brioche rolls, a charbroiled burger patty (no customizing options available for chicken or fish yet), grilled mushrooms, jalapeños, garlic aioli, and yes, even guacamole.4 You can, of course, add cheeses to your burger too. The customized burgers will cost you around $5.49, plus tax.3 If you want the meal, it’ll be a bit more. If you’re eating at the restaurant, you can expect your meal hand delivered in a metal basket—another way McDonald’s is attempting to “class up” the old hat of fast food service.
Much like the “Do Us A Flavor” contest did to drum up interest in the new Lay’s potato chip flavors, McDonald’s build-your-own-burger trial is putting the power of possibility back into the consumer’s hands. With the right advertising—usually a strong suit for McDonald’s—built around the trial results, the original fast-food leader could see the jump in public interest needed to correct its recent sales slump. Combining the powerful print ad campaigns, which are sure to come, with bold on-trend adaptations like customization and technology upgrades is certainly a step in the right direction.
It’s still too soon to predict the results of this McDonald’s DIY experiment, but you can bet they are paying close attention to popular new burger ingredient combinations customers are coming up with. Chances are we’ll see McDonald’s introduce some new burger options across the country after the test run yields customer-driven insights. However, only time will tell if the fuss-bellied and financially strapped consumers missing from McDonald’s demographics will be tempted by the option to build it themselves.
- “McDonald’s costly burgers send diners to fancier rivals” (Oct. 20, 2014). Wohl, Jessica. From the Chicago Tribune website. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2014 from chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/sns-wp-blm-news-bc-McDonald’s20-20140920-story.html.
- “McDonald’s Monthly Sales Slump Worst Since 2003” (Sept. 9, 2014). Patton, Leslie. From the Bloomberg website. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-09/mcdonald-s-august-sales-slump-as-u-s-declines-for-fourth-month.html
- “McDonald’s ‘Build Your Burger’ trial comes to San Diego” (Feb. 4, 2014). Harvey, Katherine P. From the U-T San Diego website. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2014 from utsandiego.com/news/2014/sep/04/McDonald’s-build-your-burger-test/?#article-copy.
- “We Went to the McDonald’s Build-Your-Own-Burger Test Restaurant” (Nov. 20, 2013). Stevenson, Alison. From the Vise website. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2014 from vice.com/read/we-went-to-the-McDonald’s-build-your-own-burger-test-restaurant.