Saturday, March 17, 2007

McDonald's: Super Sizing the cute Chinese Kids

I love McDonald’s. I have since I was a little kid. I can still remember my mom taking me to the McDonald’s on High Street right next to the Ohio State University campus as a little kid. Tuesdays, 19 cent hamburgers, 29 cent cheeseburgers. MMmmmm.

Fast forward 15 years later.

I was a little sick yesterday so I took off work and stayed home for the day. When I was young, it seemed that every time I was sick and went to get McDonald’s, I would get better immediately. That has now transformed into a tradition. Instead of having Chicken Noodle Soup when I’m sick, I have a Big Mac extra value meal with a sprite. Conveniently so, there is a McDonalds within a 5 minute walk from my current Shenzhen apartment (I can actually see it out of my window) when I can maintain this habit.

Although I do eat fast food, I do not consider it to be as bad as what’s made out in the 2004 documentary Super Size Me. In this documentary, a guy eats McDonald’s food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 days straight as an experiment. The results were surprising and interesting. To briefly summarize, after 30 days, the guy became depressed, had lost his sex drive, gained 20 pounds, and had liver issues, ect. (Please check out this documentary if you haven’t seen it. I own it on DVD (not even bootleg) and have watched it more than 5x.)

In my opinion, eating anything each and everyday could have adverse effects on the body. Many vegetarians and vegans don't get enough protein. People in China don't get enough calcium in a typical Chinese diet. It is important to have a complete diet with a variety of foods. Like my mom says: Eat at least 15 different types of foods a day (beans, rice, beef, carrots, ect.) and everything will be ok.

So back to the story,

Yesterday, I walked over to the place at about 12:30pm. I saw something very interesting before I arrived. This McDonald’s is right next to what I call a “spider overpass” (the 4 corners of an intersection is linked by 1 common overhead walkway) There were 2 young McDonald’s employees handing out discount coupon sheets on this walkway. Of course, for anyone who knows China, these discount coupon sheets are very common. Various companies and restaurants give them out very often to promote as a marketing too. What was interesting about this marketing drive was that it perfectly coincided with the lunch break of an elementary school less than 50 yards away.

(A little background: In Chinese secondary education, it is normal to have school be divided into 2 parts, a morning and afternoon session. Students are allowed to leave campus for lunch to eat at home.)

Of about 90% of the students leaving for lunch walked on this “spider overpass” to get to various destinations. The 2 employees had a stack of coupon sheets at least 10 inches high. They knew exactly what they were doing and made sure that every one of those kids received one.

In Super Size Me, one of the main things they narrated was the strategy of McDonald’s and fast food in general. The ultimate goal was to get the kids hooked on this stuff. Examples of this included a scene where 20 elementary school kids were shown pics of various famous people and Ronald McDonald, the McDonald’s mascot. Of course, everyone knew who Ronald was and no one knew anyone else. Another scene described the design of McDonald’s and its playground area and success in birthday parties as ways to lure kids in. Just look at the happy meal. McDonald’s invented kid’s meals.

I definitely believe in this hypothesis.

Here’s what I’m thinking:
  • China creates a good opportunity for this because more kids are responsible for their lunch. Yesterday in the McDonald’s, of the 200 people there, over 80% of the consumers were under 25, at least 60% wore the little blue/white school uniforms. Many of these kids were carefully browsing the coupons they just newly received. I guess this strategy is working.
  • Another good strategy for fast food companies like McDonald’s in China is to give away student discount cards that last for a year. These cards give about a 20% discount on selected items for the student.
  • I didn't see KFC representatives out in force like the McDonald’s employees. Even though KFC has a bigger market share than McDs in China, I wonder what their kid strategy is and its importance. I do know however, that they give away student discount cards as well.
  • McDonald’s creates such a fun and embracive atmosphere, that kids love it. Yesterday, I even saw a few kids help the hand out the coupon sheets to their friends. That’s just marketing at its best.
  • I guess I’m a product of the “luring of kids”. I was lured in as a little kid and I’m still a consistent McDonald’s consumer as a yuppie.
Although I have been "lured" in, I have an athletic background and try to watch what I eat as much as possible. As a disciplined adult and someone with a diverse palate, I would never go on a Super Size Me-esque binge. I will however, enjoy a Bic Mac or 2 once in a while.

What is difficult to see is how Chinese kids will be able to control themselves. These kids are being sucked in every single day. Let's just hope that McDonald's don't form an alliance with the schools and make it mandatory for kids to stay at school for lunch.

Has anyone tried their new mini Chicken wraps? Those are hella good too.

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