15 November, 2007

McDonald’s Hopes to Skim Latte Lovers from Starbucks

Looks like McDonald’s is really serious about McCafé, their new coffee house-styled restaurant concept. So serious that they’re gearing up to make a run at Starbucks’ customer base with it. They’ve revamped their menu and stockpiled it with more affordable coffee drinks, in addition to renovating their restaurants to skew more upscale. But there’s one problem: It’s still McDonald’s.

Starbucks is about the experience as much as it is about the coffee. People feel good with that warm cup in their hands. Whether you’re a school teacher, executive VP, or a bag boy at the local grocery store, you feel like you’ve tapped into something special when you throw down five bucks for that venti Foamalacious Whiptasticular Awesomecino with skim-soy-goat milk. You feel like Somebody. And you want other people to know you feel like Somebody, too, so you plop down on a cozy leather sofa with your laptop (I can’t afford a laptop, so I bring an Etch-a-Sketch) and you get to work tap-tap-tapping out the next great American novel (or etch-a-sketch-sketching a mean staircase) while the musical stylings of Thelonius Monk echo from the rafters. In a Starbucks, the alchemy of ambience and caffeine inspire us to be more than the sum of our parts.

In a 2005 interview, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz put it this way:

“I can best describe it by stating that we are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee. The equity of the Starbucks brand is the humanity and intimacy of what goes on in the communities that exist in each and every location. We continually are reminded of the powerful need and desire for human contact and for community, which is a new, powerful force in determining consumer choices.”

My McDonald’s experience, on the other hand, generally trends in the other direction. Whether it’s the homeless guy sifting through his hobo paraphernalia in the booth next to the Playland jungle gym or the semi-comatose counter kid who operates the McFlurry machine like he’s trying to diffuse a bomb underwater, I’ve noticed that McDonald’s restaurants have a “dynamic” all their own . Sure, I’m still Somebody at McDonald’s, but it’s usually that Somebody who’s wondering why he decided to eat at McDonald’s. And that’s why I’m skeptical of McCafé. It’s so opposite of the core McDonald’s brand. It’s less about the experience and more about the end result—getting food in my stomach as quickly as possible (and then getting the hell out of there before I get stabbed by a drifter or a party of eight year olds doped up on trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup).

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate McDonald's. It serves its purpose, and I've contributed more than my fair share to its multi-billion burger tally. But when it comes to making the coffee house work on the same level as a Starbucks, I’m doubtful McDonald’s can get out of the way of its own brand. It’s developed into a cultural icon—and not in the wholesome baseball-apple pie way, either. Sociologists bemoan the McDonaldization of our civilization. It’s been stigmatized so much so that “Mc” has become the prefix of mediocrity: McMansions, McJob, McPaper, McDermott—see, the list goes on. Adding a latte and changing out your furniture won’t scare Starbucks. Consumers’ emotional connections have a longer memory than the marketing execs may want to admit. There are images from past visits to McDonald’s that continue to haunt me to this day.

My two cents: Use all the effort, the money, the creativity that they’ve been pumping into retrofitting these franchises with McCafés, and simply create a new brand from scratch—and then keep it as far away from the McDonald’s brand as possible. If a marketing guy even suggests sticking “Mc” in front of anything, send him to work a fry line somewhere in Toledo for six months. Make this brand the un-McDonald’s.

Or, better yet, buy out Caribou Coffee. They have free wi-fi and ottomans upholstered to look like stuffed bears. Now there’s a primo place to etch-a-sketch.

McDonald’s Hopes to Skim Latte Lovers from StarbucksSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

0 others 'fessed up:

The Renegade Agency Confessional - Blogged

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP