McDonald's wants the world to know love conquers all — especially hate. That's the message of its impending marketing campaign, set to roll out ahead of the Super Bowl. The campaign, reported by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, is called, "Lovin' Beats Hatin'," apparently in reference to hurtful internet comments and bullying.
But underneath it all, McDonald's is probably hoping that not only could young people stop hating on one another online, but perhaps they could also quit hating on its struggling brand in real life.
In many ways, McDonald's is just following the age-old practice of sticking to what you know. The fast-food giant is intimately familiar with the power of outrage online, especially recently. HBO's John Oliver just took a painful swipe at a recent social media campaign asking customers for questions about its food, a message that descended into Twitter mockery about as swiftly as you'd expect. And plenty of investors have started hating on the company's stock, after McDonald's delivered a sixth consecutive quarterly earnings miss, including a 30% profit decline.
On the company's conference call to discuss the earnings results, CEO Don Thompson vowed to make marketing and advertising a "priority" in the months to come, and now, with "Lovin' Beats Hatin'," we're getting to see a nugget of what he was talking about. A McDonald's spokeswoman assured BuzzFeed News that this will not replace the company's signature "I'm Lovin' It" slogan.
We might also see a quick pushback. As Consumerist put it, McDonald's is hoping its new catchphrase will appeal to the inherent good in the people, who it "mistakenly" thinks won't see the whole thing as a chance for more mockery.
Another theory? What if McDonald's is actually in on the joke, subverting internet culture by daring people to hate its "no haters" approach? Consider that Under Armour ad featuring Gisele beating up thought bubbles full of comments from her internet haters. Or look no further than Jimmy Kimmel, who has built up a running gag of celebrities doing melodramatic readings of the horrible things people tweet about them.
But what, besides tapping the trusty Millennials Will Love This division of their respective advertising agencies, could McDonald's and Under Armour possibly have in common? And perhaps more importantly, what does internet hating have to do with Big Macs and whatever else McDonald's is selling these days? Doesn't the world's biggest food chain have bigger fish filets to fry?
Indeed it does, according to analysts and fast-food industry watchers.
"We're looking at six to seven quarters of underperformance," said RJ Hottovy, an analyst with Morningstar covering McDonald's. "Certainly they've had some marketing missteps in the last few years — emphasizing the wrong products and not getting much traction with their own budget."
That advertising budget, by the way, is nearly $1 billion.
"They need to bring food quality to the forefront, and that's going to take time because a lot of people have a perception of them having poor food quality," Hottovy added. "They're trying a number things at this point. Millennials is probably where they're going; it's been an area of weakness for them and this might be a way to kind of reconnect with that consumer base. The food quality issue is the biggest one. They haven't really had a standout product since the McCafé a few years ago."
Or, put another way, McDonald's has not had a star new product since 2008, and that product was coffee.
Over at the consumer watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, press officer Kara Kaufman thinks McDonald's may be trying to use its new campaign as a way to take the focus off food transparency, as well as other recent missteps, including an ill-fated attempt to make Ronald McDonald's clown outfit look cool in the eyes of millennials. Much internet hating followed.
"Lovin' Beats Hatin'" then, could be seen as "another of McDonald's' efforts to try and position itself as the victim," Kaufman said. "In many ways, it is a victim, but it's a victim of its own bad choices. We see this in its decision to market to kids, as well as its decision to continue to provide unhealthy food. It's positioning itself as a brand that's increasingly tone-deaf with millennials, parents, and the health food industry. Whether it's the new Ronald McDonald with cargo pants or its transparency campaign, there's a lot of PR failures, and it does nothing to address the underlying problem: It is a junk food brand."
When reached for comment, a McDonald's spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News that there had been "misreporting" on the campaign in earlier articles.
"We're always working with our partners on great new creative," the spokeswoman said. "It's highly speculative and premature to talk about Super Bowl ads and future campaigns for next year."
Does that mean the company could still change its mind? Perhaps love will not conquer hate after all.