An Audacious Idea for McDonald’s: Go Vegan!
A couple of years ago I told Starbucks to kill itself off and start again before the market slayed it (slew it?) dead. If you know me, you know that I am a huge Starbucks fan as well as a branding and social media strategist, and I said as someone who believes that the soul of a brand can live albeit in different packaging.
Today it looks like the ‘bux has made itself right and I’ thinking about another brand I like a lot, and how it might reinvent itself for a new era. And that brand is McDonald’s.
Though the food at McDonald's is not generally for me - even if I weren't kosher I don't eat much meat and avoid processed food for health reasons - I am a great admirer of the brand. Here is a company that really understands the seeming paradox that great brands know how to navigate like an elephant who can dance on the head of a pin: on the one hand extreme consistency, and on the other total customization.
They get this done by establishing the brand as a presence everywhere, then tweaking the menu to suit customers' tastes in broad ways (greasy/sugary and nutritionally harmless co-exist there) as well as to suit local tastes (like fish sandwiches for breakfast in Japan) or the "Kiwi Burger" in New Zealand some years ago: "100% pure beef patty, Farmer Brown egg, Wattie's Beetroot, tomato, lettuce, Mainland cheese, onions, tomato sauce, and mustard on a toasted bun. The packaging had 46 classic kiwi quotes, kiwiana, and kiwi sporting icons." (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald's_products)
Yet I think McDonald's, by continuing to sell meat, may be missing the boat on a huge change taking place in consumers' collective consciousness today. As the human race grows more spiritually enlightened, corporate social responsibility becomes a bigger and bigger deal. CSR has been talked about for years but I think we are soon going to hit a "tipping point." Brands that are fully sustainable, that give back to the earth more than they took away from it, will have the advantage; those that represent cruelty of any kind, or wastefulness, will suffer.
Right now we haven't hit the tipping point yet, and McDonald's still sees its main competitor as Burger King. But as Deepak Chopra once said, the way out of a conflict is not to fight at the level of the war but to rise above it. This is all a long way of saying that I think McDonald's has a window of opportunity to become the first vegan big-name brand. No longer would Americans have to pay ridiculous markup prices for healthy food - for the first time the mass market would have equal access to healthier and socially conscious fare.
If they don't muck it up by hiding trans fat in the food, treating the workforce badly, or doing something else to contradict the message, think of all the possible win-win benefits here:
1. Help conquer obesity and diet-related disease by making it normal to eat healthy food rather than disgusting, greasy fast-food
2. Stop killing animals for food needlessly
3. Promote intelligent use of plentiful resources for healthy eating
4. Make healthy eating possible for even the most economically challenged among us
And most important of all -
5. Show that you can do well by doing good - paving the way for others to follow with different ideas that are equally as helpful.