Friday, January 18, 2013

Variety Friday: The McDonald's 60-second campaign

There are a lot of characteristics which, in general, define the Japanese psyche. One of them is their appreciation and value of aesthetics. Often, it is the case that how something looks plays a major role in whether or not it will be purchased. I even complained about how sweets in Japan often look great, but taste less appealing because of this experience. This focus on aesthetics is why you get a lot of wrapping on some purchases and clerks will glacially slowly and painstakingly place things in bags and boxes for you.

There's also a certain expectation among the Japanese that they will get what they see. All of that plastic food outside of shops tends to be amazingly accurate representations of what you are served. Granted, McDonald's is not a "restaurant" in any true sense of the word, but even fast food in Japan tends to look similar to what is in pictures. Perhaps it's all a bit flatter and grayer, but it's not a sloppy mess. Things have apparently changed.

Another fairly well known attribute is patience. Japanese people line up and wait in long queues without pushing, shoving, or complaining. It's not that they are never in a hurry, but rather that they understand that sometimes there's no choice but to wait and the overwhelming majority do so with good grace and stoicism, if not gentle good humor.

Given these fairly well known and oft-displayed characteristics, I have to ask, "what was McDonald's Japan thinking" when they came up with the 60-second campaign. They even put a timer on the counter to allow customers to track the speed of delivery of their order in order to up the capacity to monitor employees. For those who haven't read about it, as of January 4, the golden arches in Japan promised to make your burger in a minute or less or they'd give you a coupon for a free burger (and everyone gets a free brewed coffee coupon). The internet is abuzz with stories of sloppy results and complaints from customers who would rather have things right than fast. 

Before anyone thinks this is a transference of American-style shoddy service to Japan, I'd like to point out that the Japanese run their own show in this regard. One of the reasons why it has been so successful despite offering Western-style cuisine is that the head honchos tend to do a pretty good job when it comes to tapering menu choices and marketing toward Japanese people. They retool the shakes so they are less sweet but fattier. They offer limited edition seasonal menu items that fit the ebb and flow of tastes in Japan (like sakura shakes in spring). The people in charge are not dumb. They know their market and generally make good choices. So, what is this all about?

Though I cannot know, I have some suspicions and they are based on the growth strategies that McDonald's Japan is emphasizing. One of their goals for the coming year is to create a "gold standard" for drive-through service and to optimize profits by focusing on larger operations. While I cannot know for certain, it's not too great of a leap in logic to believe that faster service is a part of both of these plans. McDonald's has been and plans to continue to strategically close smaller places and focus on larger ones. If you were going into such a big fast food joint and saw a long line, wouldn't you be more inclined to wait during your limited lunch hour if you had confidence that each customer could be served in a minute? You could literally count how long you'd have to wait. The same goes for the drive-through service. 

I think this campaign was about two things, and I'm pretty sure it isn't going to succeed on either front. One was training staff to push themselves to the limit on speed during peak service hours (note that the campaign operates between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, prime lunch hour range for most people). The other possible goal would be to create confidence in consumers that they would get served promptly and well during rush hours even if they were at a location that was somewhat swamped with customers. 

Besides focusing on the drive-through business and eliminating small stores in favor of larger ones, McDonald's plans on acquiring prime real estate in areas with a high commercial promise. It makes sense to assume that they hope to buy a good chunk of land in an area which has a high potential for massive numbers of customers and to erect large shops there. This makes fiscal sense because small places serving under-patronized areas can't be nearly as profitable. However, we all know that the little places tend to give better service, both in terms of quality and speed, because employees aren't harried and swamped. Once again, one can speculate that this campaign could work as a warm up for service at very large new locations. 

It's also possible that this is as stupid and ill-advised as it looks. Perhaps this is just a PR campaign which someone concocted for some quick attention without regard to the Japanese market's concerns or the insane pressure it would put on employees. It's also possible that the management bigwigs at McDonald's Japan are just too clever for the rest of this and they  have an ace up their sleeve that will pull all of this together into a happy ending. I guess time will tell. 


Anonymous said...

My friends in Japan (all McDonald's-obsessed; I'm a vegetarian and don't much like fast food) have mostly been annoyed by this campaign and are complaining about how gross and messy their burgers are! Considering that Japanese McD's usually serves food that looks exactly like the pictures, I think they're spoiled. :D

Orchid64 said...

Like you, I also dislike fast food. While I'm not a vegetarian (though I eat far less animal protein than average people and will end up eating vegetarian accidentally some days due to random food choices), I think the quality of the food is just not good enough.

It is funny to consider that people who eat at McDonald's in Japan are in any way "spoiled", but the thought that they are so used to it looking good and they're protesting for settling for less has verisimilitude.

Thanks for your comment!

gossip_bangkok said...

On the day of the 成人式 , they also offered free Big Mac to those who turned twenty. However, the funny thing was, in one of the store in my town, they didn't even check the ID. They simply gave it out to anyone who asked for the free Big Mac.

Orchid64 said...

I think they trust that Japanese people will be honest about such things. Generally speaking, I'm sure that is true because the fear of being asked and embarrassed if you are lying is high enough to keep potential fakers at bay!