The Polarizing World of Processed Meat: McRib Mania

Here’s a challenge for you: Use your marketing skills to go to market with a sandwich made of meat products such as tripe, heart and stomach. These ingredients will be blended with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins, which act as a “glue” that helps bind the reshaped meat together into a meat log.

Yes, a meat log.

Based on what I’ve shared, do you feel good about your chances for marketing success? The definition alone might make some people queasy, yet millions of people salivate at the site of this very sandwich plastered on a billboard. It’s the McRib.

This sandwich has been getting people excited for 30 years. But why?

Despite its component parts consisting of things like heart and stomach, the McRib has a cult following and, from time to time, is available at 14,000 locations in the United States. It keeps coming back and people keep buying it and I find myself wondering how McDonald’s continues creating demand?

Whenever we do focus groups, or one-on-one interviews to test product concepts, I am always on the lookout for ideas that polarize our participants. I want them to LOVE it or absolutely HATE it, because that passion is what drives a purchase. Anything that falls in the middle and lands on “That’s nice” is dead for me. McRib definitely avoids eliciting a dispassionate response.

The McRib has been around for 30 years and has, in some ways, achieved pop culture status. Why? I have some thoughts, but at the end of the day, you can simply say McDonald’s has created those RAVING fans I keep talking about.

Consider these three reasons for the McRib’s success:

McDonald’s is using a sales technique that’s good for closing a deal. It’s called the take away: “Here it is! But sorry, you can’t have it.” Scarcity is a great thing because, for a period of time, it creates urgency and drives business. We are really good at this in the mattress business. Or are we? Are the sales we create truly here and gone, or do we follow up with another promotion that includes almost the same terms and prices?

To my point above, McDonald’s induces McRib mania because it has created a loyal following of people that LOVE the product. Yes, there are many people that get disgusted by the mention of McRib, but who cares? They are not the target. Controversy can be a GOOD THING! McDonald’s knows that a percentage of its customers crave the McRib and it builds on that very well. Do you create products or events that people just HAVE TO EXPERIENCE?

The Golden Arches does a fantastic job marketing this slab of pork. I bet if you were to poll those in the culinary world in a blind survey, they would tell you that, based on quality and ingredients, this product would never sell. McDonald’s brings in the McRib for a limited time and drives it hard with attention-getting ads and leverages the loyal base to deliver the result.

I have seen examples of retailers using these tactics in the bedding industry, so take a look around and learn from the experts. Find something that works, make a big deal and limit its exposure in terms of time available. Now that we have created some interest here, I hate to tell you that you have just missed the McRib. Once again, it went away November 14, 2011. Will it be back again? Probably. Hungry? Definitely.

Are you a McRib lover or hater? Do you know someone who is nutty for this sandwich? Tell me in the comments section.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the thinking of the company I work for, or anyone else with whom I am affiliated. Except my wife of course, who is good at telling me what not to say.

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