Supersized Profits from a Supersized Pig: Cult of McDonalds McRib a Marketing Knockout

Oct 31, 2011

I’ve had a lot to say these past two months about Apple and its visionary former CEO, the late Steve Jobs. But for today’s blog post, let’s leave Apple aside and change food groups.  Enter McDonalds and the McRib.

In case you haven’t heard (CNN deemed it front-page-worthy last week and it led the news on three of the major networks), the gut-busting artery clogging cult-classic, McRib, is back, re-released October 24th.

Introduced nationally in 1982 and a menu mainstay until 1985 after slumping sales saved it from the butcher, the McRib nevertheless may just well be swine-dom’s – and the Golden Arches – greatest success. Rather than rolling its snout in the mud at a failed sandwich and marketing campaign, McDonald’s turned the boneless “fantastically flavorful” sandwich into a mega hit.

Except for Kentucky Fried Chicken’s nasty Double Down, (a sandwich whose “bun” is two fried pieces of chicken, mmmm I can feel the lard accumulating on my thighs right now) I can’t think of another fast food sandwich that captures CNN’s news hound attention quite like this. When you’re a company who boasts, “99 billion served” it’s hard to top yourself. But McDonalds and the McRib have done it again – and flying in the face of a high-volume national debate over the obesity epidemic.

In terms of marketing, kudos – or ribs – to McDs.

McDonald’s marketing folks took a failed pork sandwich and turned it into a recurring limited edition hit. The McRib enjoyed a 16-year break after briefly being brought back last fall. Such an approach, combined with creative, playful marketing, and even self-mocking humor, helped not only CNN take note of the sandwich’s periodic return, but it has been mentioned almost daily on multiple morning radio talk shows, has been lampooned by the Simpsons over the years, and has enjoyed multiple billings on David Letterman’s Top 10 List.

Embrace Your Inner Pig

Swiftly embracing today’s social media generation, McRib fans can visit the sandwich’s Facebook and Twitter pages as well as check out the McRib locator website, complete with a Google map showing where the McRib is being served as a countdown timer ticks away the days until the sandwich goes back into annual hibernation.

The result of all this pig pandemonium? Last November during the McRib’s 2010 cameo, overall McDonalds sales enjoyed a 4.8 percent US sales increase, according to CNN. To be sure, such marketing success is not all about fun and games and over-the-top pig humor. It also serves as a reminder for PR professionals and our clients. Promoting your brand doesn’t always require reinventing the wheel. Sticking with what works – and even what doesn’t work at first – can go a long way too. Not taking yourself too seriously is also a great way to demonstrate sincerity – a corporate characteristic that many in the public feel is sadly lacking.

All this for a greasy, sauce-laden sandwich.

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