Social Media's McRib Gets Raked Over The Coals

In the early days of Twitter, a major brand like McDonald's didn't have to spend a dime on the microblogging site to sell a few extra Big Macs. With their following of over 60,000+ folks, a few well-placed tweets with a link to a discount or coupon usually did the trick. Now, with this year's roll-out of Twitter's Promoted Trends, McD's has been said to spend as much as $80,000 with a less than desired return on its investment.

In an effort to reintroduce the "McRib" sandwich to its menu, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based fast-food burger franchise invested in the Twitter ad spend to tweet to the world, "McRib is Back!" However, according to a ClickZ report, the Twitterati shouted back, "ain't loving it" in a number of ways that tallied more negative sentiment than positive buzz.

Since it's McRib re-launch, there are 100s of similar rants. To verify, all you have to do is type the keywords "McRib is Back" into a Twitter search to see if you can find any positive tweets in the Twitterstream.

Apparently Twitter isn't the only social media channel that can ambush a brand's paid messaging. In October in a "promoted video" campaign on YouTube, Cheerios experienced a similar problem. Viewers who searched for keywords such as "heart problems" and then clicked on one of Cheerio's promoted video ads were taken to several short one-minute videos on topics such as "tennis" and "gardening." However since the cereal was not mentioned in any of the videos, it ended up producing a lot of negative user-generated comments that casted doubt about the product.

Here are two such comments cited in another ClickZ report:

While Cheerios did not comment on their YouTube ad run, Rick Wion, social media director at McDonald's spoke with ClickZ about McD's Twitter campaign indicating that he felt their anaylysis was incomplete. He contended that what ClickZ cited was inconclusively "anecdotal" and there wasn't enough evidence to judge the sentiment data over a longer window of time.

"We are talking about thousands and thousands of tweets throughout the day," he said. "Leading up to this [effort], the sentiment that we've been tracking through our social media tracking tools has been overwhelmingly positive." I don't know what Wion is referring to, because as I mentioned earlier anyone can search today and find an overwhelming number of not-so-favorable tweets.

Wion also suggested that many demeaning or sarcastic comments about the McRib product stem from a misconception some people have about the meat in the sandwich. "What I can tell you is that it is a quality sandwich," he said. "It is U.S.D.A. grade A pork - pork loin and pork shoulder chopped and made into a patty. The fact that it is shaped like ribs probably throws some people off. Often there are some critics who jump on that."

While the McRib incident might not be a conclusive case study in whether or not to invest in Twitter's Promoted Trends, it appears that Twitter does not provide enough demographic data or targeted user information for a brand to make an informed decision before spending the ad dollars.

Carri Bugbee, president of Big Deal PR went so far as to say, ""I don't know if the folks on Twitter are really their target audience," Bugbee said. "I don’t know who the target audience is for the McRib. But I am going to guess it's probably younger and less affluent, and that's not really where Twitter is probably going to work [as a marketing channel]."

While I don't think this is the case, perhaps McDonald's might be wise in the future to test their messaging with their established 60,000+ followers before offering it up to the entire Twittersphere. This way, they wouldn't have to spend anywhere's near $80K to see what works and what doesn't. The secret sauce isn't just throwing a lot money at social media - the secret ingredient is communicating with your customers on a daily one-to-one basis to find out what truly appeals to them.

Nov 9, 2010
by Anonymous


It's interesting because I saw several mentions of the McRib on Facebook and they were all positive. I mentioned it on Twitter and the results were mixed. I think one of the biggest problems with any campaign of this type is that there's no way to measure the number of people who noted the campaign and took action on it, but did not bother to tweet it. Since Twitter is used by many as a news-sharing platform, there would be no need to mention something that was clearly already covered. Not everyone is going to tweet, "off to get a McRib." As far as impressions go, I'm sure McDonalds got plenty of bang for their buck with the campaign.

Nov 9, 2010
by Anonymous

The promoted ads aren't

The promoted ads aren't going to work if the brands are acting like it's traditional media buys still. Social media is about being more organic, a spammed paid ad isn't going to work.